NBC10 - Christine Maddela
A few New Jersey towns are now accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses ahead of gay marriage becoming legal next week.
Several New Jersey towns were accepting applications for marriage licenses so gay couples can tie the knot starting Monday -- unless the state Supreme Court blocks the nuptials before then.
Garden State Equality Executive Director Troy Stevenson said the applications were being accepted by Friday _ or were expected to be soon -- in communities including Newark, where U.S. Sen.-elect Cory Booker is mayor, Asbury Park, Lambertville; Lodi, and Red Bank.
He said that judges will be available around the state starting late Sunday night to waive the customary 72-hour waiting period for marriage licenses in what could be a rush for same-sex couples to get married as soon as it's legal. Officials in Jersey City said they would be filing a legal motion to have that waiting period waived so couples can be married on Monday.
The preparations came in response to a judge's decision last month that the state must recognize same-sex marriage starting Monday.
Gov. Chris Christie's administration appealed the ruling and is asking the Supreme Court to disallow same-sex marriages in the meantime. A ruling on whether to grant a stay could be released Friday, though by midmorning, there had been no indication from the court on when it might act. Oral arguments on the broader case are planned for January.
The state Health Department on Thursday afternoon emailed town officials telling them, "you cannot take applications for same sex marriages until you hear from this office that we have the authority to do so." The message also says that forms have been updated and would be ready for towns to use when they have legal clearance.
On Friday, Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said the message was intended as a way to let towns know that the department was awaiting legal guidance.
But Collingswood Mayor James Maley said he does not believe that directive has legal authority and decided to accept applications from gay couples starting at noon Friday, and to accept them at a community center Saturday. He said he's frustrated that the state attorney general's office has not been able to offer guidelines to town officials.
"Here we are less than 72 hours before the start and nobody has any direction on how to implement it," he said. "Politics are interfering with the implementation of the court decision."
A spokesman for the attorney general did not immediately return a message.
In court filings, the state said it would be harmed if couples could get married before a final decision is rendered.
Gay rights groups argue that same-sex couples would be the ones harmed by a delay now that the federal government is providing benefits including Social Security death benefits and joint tax filing to married gay couples.
"Some people might say, 'What's another three or four months?'" Stevenson said. "These couples are saying it's an eternity, especially the ones with an ill partner."
Amy Quinn, a member of the city council in Asbury Park, said she and her wife, Heather Jensen, applied at 8 a.m. Friday for a marriage license in Asbury Park. The couple has already been joined in a New Jersey domestic partnership and was married in New York in June. Quinn said they want to have a marriage in New Jersey as a symbol. "Being married in my home state, where I live, is important," she said.
She said the couple is planning to join several others from Asbury Park in a ceremony conducted by a clergy member at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
In a separate push, gay rights groups are trying to persuade lawmakers to override Christie's 2012 veto of a bill to recognize gay marriage. The deadline for an override is Jan. 14, but a vote is not expected until sometime after the Nov. 5 elections.
Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, favors civil unions, which the state has offered since 2007, but opposes gay marriage. He said it should be allowed only by a vote of the people and not decided by lawmakers or judges.