NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ The state of New Jersey has no right to put asunder what love has joined together, say a couple who ran afoul of a regulation barring police officers and court clerks from marrying each other.

Joseph and Marie Hughes of North Arlington asked U.S. District Judge Nicholas Politan on Wednesday to strike down the state regulation, which was aimed at avoiding any appearance of conflict of interest.

Mrs. Hughes has been a municipal court clerk in North Arlington since 1981, after four years as an acting clerk. Her husband of one year - they met in the courthouse - has been a police officer since 1971.

''We happened to fall in love and get married and all of a sudden, I'm told I'm out of a job,'' Mrs. Hughes said.

Their lawyer, Lisa Agresti Carey, said the 1977 regulation interferes with the Hugheses' fundamental right to tie the knot and is blatantly unconstitutional.

At Wednesday's hearing, Deputy Attorney General Michael Diller argued that municipal courts are more intimate than others and are the most-often used by the average person.

The rule was necessary to avoid the appearance that police could influence the court's workings, he said.

But Politan remarked, ''This is the real world we live in. We're not dealing with stick men. We're dealing with real people.''

Politan said he would rule later this summer.

Under the state Supreme Court regulation that took effect a few months before Mrs. Hughes became acting clerk, no spouse, parent or child of a police officer can be made a municipal court clerk or deputy clerk.

The Hugheses sued to overturn the rule in February. They have permission to stay on the job until the issue is resolved.

Ms. Carey attacked the rule as oppressive to the Hugheses, illogical and unfair. For one thing, she said, Hughes rarely handles municipal court cases.

She said Mrs. Hughes could remove herself from all cases involving her husband, just as officer-clerk couples who married before the rule must do.