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 Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
"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."
Garden State Equality Executive Director Troy Stevenson said the applications were being accepted by Friday — or were expected to be soon — in communities including Collingswood, Lambertville, Newark, Asbury Park, Lodi and Red Bank.
Some of the towns, like Collingswood, are adding extra office hours to allow same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses over the weekend.
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.
The preparations came in response to a judge's decision last month that the state must recognize same-sex marriage starting Monday.
Christie's administration appealed the ruling and asked the court to disallow same-sex marriages in the meantime. The state Supreme Court denied that request on Friday.
It's a shame it took this long to get to this point and that it took a court fight for same-sex couples to gain equal right," Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver said in a statement Friday. "If it wasn't for Gov. Christie, who has done everything he could to prevent this from happening, including wasting money and time continuing this court battle."
Christie's Press Secretary released this statement on the matter:
"The Supreme Court has made its determination. While the Governor firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the State of New Jersey, he has instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with all municipalities in effectuating the order of the Superior Court under the applicable law."
The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Thursday afternoon that the state Health Department told town clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until there was a ruling from the state's top court — a request that some towns appeared to be defying.
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."
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.