TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey judge has reinstated a previously dismissed portion of a lawsuit from gay couples seeking to have the state recognize same-sex marriage.

The ruling issued Tuesday by Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg broadens the scope of the suit by allowing further argument over whether denying gay couples permission to wed violates the U.S. Constitution.

Gay rights groups see the reinstatement as a small victory, even though it’s largely technical.

The case was already moving through the court system based on the argument that not recognizing gay nuptials violates the state Constitution. And it’s expected to be decided ultimately by the state Supreme Court no matter how lower court judges rule.

The lawsuit filed by seven same-sex couples and several of their children is the latest move in a decade-long effort by gay rights groups to win marriage rights in New Jersey.

The state’s top court came close in 2006, ruling unanimously that gay couples deserved equal treatment under the law and returning a 4-3 decision that those rights did not have to be called marriage. Lawmakers responded by creating civil unions, which offer the legal protections but not the name of marriage.

In the latest lawsuit, the gay couples and their children say civil unions don’t create the kind of equality that the state court mandated in 2006.

Gay rights groups have also been trying to persuade lawmakers to recognize marriage.

Tuesday’s ruling came five days after the Legislature passed a law to legalize same-sex matrimony and four days after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it. But the majorities that passed the bill fell short of the two-thirds required for an override.

An override vote could come as late as January 2014.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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