Judge Clears Way for Gay Marriage to Start in NJ, State Asks for Emergency Appeal

State asks for permission to file emergency appeal; gay marriages still set to begin on Oct. 21

A New Jersey judge denied the state's appeal to halt same-sex marriages, clearing the way for couples to begin marrying starting Oct. 21. But an appeal is underway.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson said on Thursday that offering gay couples the opportunity to enter into a civil marriage would not "cause the State to suffer irreparable harm."

She added that delaying the issuance of marriage licenses would, however, hurt gay couples by making them "suffer many hardships of constitutional magnitude."

The judge also said the state would most likely lose an appeal.

However, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Thursday evening asked the Superior Court for permission to file an emergency appeal. The court granted the request giving them until Friday at noon to file the appeal.

Jacobson ruled on Sept. 27 that New Jersey must allow gay couples to marry after six couples and LGBT advocacy group Garden State Equality filed a suit.

The state currently offers gays the opportunity to enter into a civil union, but the couples argued civil unions did not fulfill a 2006 N.J. Supreme Court ruling that required the state to give gay couples the same rights as married couples.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs and found civil unions to be unequal and unconstitutional.

Gov. Chris Christie's administration filed a request for a stay in implementing gay marriages on Oct. 1 saying the state would suffer "irrefutable harm" without having the N.J. Supreme Court rule on the issue.

"Momentum is with us," said Troy Stevenson, Executive Director of Garden State Equality, on Thursday. "All couples in New Jersey need the dignity of marriage, and they need it now. We look forward to seeing many of them, who have been denied that dignity for too long, marry in the coming weeks."

A request for comment from the governor was not immediately answered.

Check back for more on this developing story.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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