1st gay couples marry in N.J., Christie drops appeal

WiG and AP reports

UPDATED: Gov. Chris Christie has dropped the appeal. There apparently will be no more challenge to same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

Gay couples marry in New Jersey, Christie drops appeal

Gay couples in communities across New Jersey exchanged marriage vows in the first minutes of today (Oct. 21) following a court ruling that compelled the state to recognize same-sex nuptials.

At Newark’s City Hall, seven gay couples were married, with Mayor Cory Booker presiding. Booker, a Democrat elected last week to the U.S. Senate, declared Gabriela Celeiro and Liz Salerno “lawful spouses.” With emotion, he said, “This is very beautiful.”

The ceremony briefly was interrupted by a heckler.

Booker, at the ceremony, said, “Tonight we have crossed a barrier, and now, while you all have fallen into love, I want to say that the truth is, that the state of New Jersey has risen to love. This state now is resonant now with the core values of our county, with the idea that there is no second class citizenship in America, that we’re all equal under the law.”

Wedding plans began on Oct. 18, after the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously rejected a request from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to delay an order that the state must start recognizing same-sex marriages on Oct. 21.

In September, a lower-court judge issued that order while finding that the state ban against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Christie’s administration appealed, asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn the lower court ruling and to issue a stay until the case could be heard.

The Court next agreed to hear the case, on its merits, in January, but on Oct. 18 it said it would not stop the start of same-sex marriages on Oct. 21.

And so, same-sex couples began exchanging vows in the Garden State shortly after the stroke of midnight.

And, by mid-morning, the governor’s office had announced that it was advising the state attorney general to drop the appeal, which apparently means there will be no further challenge to same-sex marriage in the state. 

“Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law,” Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement. “The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

The announcement from the governor, seen as a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, was unexpected. Christie vetoed a marriage equality bill, saying voters should decide the matter.

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “Gov. Christie did the right thing in not standing in the way of loving couples’ ability to make lifelong commitments to each other through marriage. Civil Unions have never been full equality and as the state court system has said, denying marriage to lesbian and gay couples does real harm to them and their families. Breaking down this dark wall of discrimination in New Jersey helps build momentum as we continue to expand the marriage equality map so that one day soon a state border will not dictate whether a loving couple can share in the joys of marriage.”

And leaders of the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans found reason to say thanks. Executive director Gregory T. Angelo said, “In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, civil unions can in no way be considered equivalent to civil marriage for committed same-sex couples. Gov. Christie apparently knew he was fighting a losing battle in continuing to fight against marriage equality in the Garden State, and rather than engage in legal gymnastics, decided to plant himself on the right side of history. Log Cabin Republicans thanks Gov. Christie for doing the right thing.”

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

Earlier this month, the state of Oregon said it would recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

In New Mexico, clerks have issued licenses and same-sex couples have married and the state Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue this week.

Hawaii lawmakers will meet later this month for a special session on marriage equality and Illinois legislators could vote on an equality bill this month or next.

Meanwhile, at least one county official in North Carolina has accepted an application for a marriage license from a same-sex couple and a county official in Pennsylvania issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples earlier this year.