Christie: New Jersey will comply with order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples

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UPDATED: Lambda Legal this afternoon (Oct. 18) said New Jersey clerks will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, who can marry beginning on Oct. 21.

The first news was shared in a tweet from Lambda, which said, "#MarriageEquality is coming to New Jersey on Monday! The #NJ Supreme Court unanimously refused to delay the ruling."

Soon after, in a celebratory email to supporters, Lambda executive director Kevin Cathcart said, "Pop the Champagne – love and fairness are winning over discrimination and injustice!

"When state officials asked the court to postpone the decision ending the exclusion from marriage, Lambda Legal stood up and said, 'No!' The Court has now agreed with us that couples and families suffer real harms every day they are excluded from laws that provide benefits and protections for essential needs like health care and retirement security."

Gov. Chris Christie's administration had asked the Court to stay a lower court order that the state allow same-sex couples to marry beginning next week.

But the state's highest Court, in a unanimous decision issued on Oct. 18, said, "The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today. The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."

"The New Jersey Supreme Court has sent a momentous and vital message to the entire country," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "No government should stand in the way of committed and loving couples seeking to marry. And I have no doubt that when this case is resolved on the merits, marriage equality will come to the Garden State permanently."

At the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, executive director Rea Carey said, "This is a huge victory for New Jersey families. It affirms what millions of people across the country already know — loving, committed same-sex couples and their families should be able to join in the celebration and responsibilities of marriage. It has been a long journey of changing hearts and minds, of breaking down walls and of shining a spotlight on our common humanity."

Later on Oct. 18, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said the governor "firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the state of New Jersey."

But the governor also said the New Jersey Health Department would help towns carry out the state supreme Court ruling.

The supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the lower court decision on the merits in the Lambda Legal case, which challenges the state's ban on same-sex marriage, in January.

Unclear, as of mid-afternoon Oct. 18, was whether same-sex couples must wait 72 hours after receiving licenses to marry. That has been the requirement in New Jersey.

Some clerks in the Garden State were prepared to issue licenses on Oct. 18.

Also unclear is whether the state, effective Oct. 21, must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

And, perhaps the biggest question, is how might the state deal with same-sex marriages if the state supreme court upholds the ban on gay marriage next year?

Same-sex couples can marry in 13 states and the District of Columbia.