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In the Garden State, Wedding Bells Chime for Same-Sex Couples

At just a few minutes after midnight, gay and lesbian couples across New Jersey celebrated marriage equality by getting hitched

Joanne Schailey (left) and Beth Asaro share some wedding cake after being among the first same-sex couples to be married in New Jersey early Monday.
Joanne Schailey (left) and Beth Asaro share some wedding cake after being among the first same-sex couples to be married in New Jersey early Monday.

The state Supreme Court sent what many are calling a definitive signal on Friday when it refused to step in and stop same-sex couples from marrying beginning today: The fight for marriage equality appears to be over.

Early Monday morning Gov. Chris Christie abandoned his suit to have the court hear the state's case to overturn the lower court's decision. With that, same-sex marriage became a fact of life in the Garden State.

Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey didn't bother to wait for the administration's announcement. The same-sex Lambertville couple were married just a few minutes after midnight, two years after being married in New York State, and six years after becoming New Jersey’s first same-sex couple to enter a civil union.

The couple was pronounced officially married at 12:03 a.m. after a brief ceremony that was delayed for several minutes -- while a DJ played “Still the One” by Shania Twain -- in order that the marriage would not be formally declared before the legally sanctioned deadline.

Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio, who performed the ceremony, said, “Our community was built on a foundation of tolerance and equal justice.” Similar scenes were likely played out in other communities with large lesbian and gay populations, such as Jersey City and Asbury Park.

The mayors of the states two largest cities -- Cory Booker in Newark and Steven Fulop in Jersey City -- said they planned to perform ceremonies shortly after midnight.

Booker said on Twitter on Friday that “Thanks to today's ruling on Marriage Equality: On Monday at 12:01 AM I'll be marrying both straight & gay couples in City Hall.”

Fulop said Saturday that the court’s decision offered an “opportunity to move forward, and I don’t think we should waste any time.”

Lambertville Registrar Cindy Ege said she had received applications for 13 marriage licenses from same-sex couples since Saturday, and encouraged wedding guests to apply for more.

Mayor DelVecchio said the ceremony heralded the beginning of a normalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

But does the court's ruling support to any degree with this sanguine interpretation?

The court’s language in the unanimous decision denying a stay of a lower-court ruling that would allow gay marriages to be performed in the Garden State beginning today was sweeping in its criticism of the Christie administration. It appears to make clear how the court is likely to rule in January after hearing the full case, observers say.

The Christie administration’s legal argument against performing gay marriages until the Court makes its final ruling -- that allowing same-sex marriages to move forward, ahead of a trial, would create irreparable harm to the state -- was dismissed outright, as was its contention that inequities in state law created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act needed to be addressed by the federal government, not the state

The Christie administration, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in his 20-page ruling, failed to overcome the “reality” that “same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law” in New Jersey. “The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative,” he wrote. The state, he continued, “has not shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits” and marriages, therefore, must be allowed to commence beginning October 21.

The court made three essential points in refusing the administration’s stay request: that the state’s basic argument was built on a logical fallacy, that the state’s argument that case law is settled in its favor is a misreading of constitutional law, and that it failed to show tangible harm to the state.

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