Same-sex marriages will begin within days in New Jersey after the state's highest court ruled unanimously Friday to uphold a lower-court order that gay weddings must start Monday and to deny a delay that was sought by the state popular Republican governor, Chris Christie.
A judge on the lower court had ruled last month that New Jersey must recognize same-sex marriage and set Monday as the date to allow gay weddings. Christie, a Republican who is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, appealed the decision and asked for the start date to be put on hold while the state Supreme Court decides the case.
"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 court ruled. "The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."
His administration also asked that the state's top court take up the appeal of the lower-court ruling, something it agreed to do last week. Oral arguments are expected Jan. 6 or 7.
Thirteen states, including most in the Northeast, now recognize gay marriage.
Whether gay couples should have the right to marry in New Jersey has been the subject of a battle in the state's courts and Legislature over the past decade. There has been a flurry of movements in both venues since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated key parts of a federal law that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.
Since then, gay rights advocates have asked New Jersey judges to force the state to recognize same-sex marriage, arguing that the state's current policy of granting gay couples civil unions but not marriage licenses amounts to denying those couples federal protections such as Social Security survivor benefits and the right to file tax returns jointly.
Since July, gay rights groups have also engaged in an intense campaign aimed at persuading lawmakers to override Christie's 2012 veto of a bill that would have allowed gay marriage. To get an override, the Legislature must act by Jan. 14.
Christie says he favors civil unions and says that allowing same-sex marriage is something that should be done only by a public vote, not the state's judges or lawmakers.
As Christie's appeal is considered, the state government will have to allow weddings and work quickly through some logistical issues: Does the Monday deadline apply to when marriage licenses must be issued, or when ceremonies can take place, for instance? Normally, there's a three-day waiting period in New Jersey between getting a license and tying the knot.
And are gay and lesbian couples that have wed legally elsewhere automatically considered married in New Jersey, or do they have to fill out forms and pay fees, too?
A state lawmaker had asked the state attorney general's office Thursday whether the normal 72-hour waiting period would apply for same-sex couples seeking to get married Monday if no stay was granted. Several New Jersey towns had begun accepting marriage license applications from same-sex couples in case the court didn't block the weddings from starting Monday.
After those topics are decided, another big hypothetical question looms: What happens to the status of same-sex marriages entered into now if the court decides next year that the state does not have to grant marriage to gay couples?
Despite the uncertainty, couples — some of whom have been together for decades — have been planning to have ceremonies as soon as they would be recognized by the state government. Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio said he's planning to lead the state's first legally recognized same-sex wedding, between Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey. DelVecchio also performed the ceremony in 2007 when the couple became among New Jersey's first to be granted a civil union.
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Original headline: New Jersey court to allow same-sex marriages
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