October 21, 2013 at 12:57 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Same-sex marriages begin in New Jersey

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday announced his administration would not appeal a decision that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in his state. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday announced his administration would no longer appeal a decision that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in his state. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday announced his administration will no longer challenge a court ruling that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“Chief Justice Rabner left no ambiguity about the unanimous court’s view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, ‘same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,'” Christie spokesperson Colin Reed said, referring to the state Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on Friday that denied the governor’s request to postpone Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s Sept. 27 ruling that found the state’s civil unions law prevents same-sex couples from obtaining federal marriage benefits until the justices rule on his administration’s appeal of it. “Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law.”

Christie’s announcement comes hours after gays and lesbians began to exchange vows in the Garden State.

Lambertville City Councilwoman Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey, who in 2007 became the first same-sex couple to take advantage of New Jersey’s civil unions law, exchanged vows during a brief ceremony that Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio officiated at midnight.

“We remained optimistic and hopeful that we would be able to get together and do the just thing, the right thing,” DelVecchio said. “Now we’re here.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who defeated former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonehan last week to succeed the late-U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), officiated seven same-sex weddings at Newark City Hall shortly after Asaro and Schailey tied the knot. A heckler briefly interrupted the proceedings before security personnel escorted him out of the building.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop married eight gay and lesbian couples at Jersey City Hall after midnight.

Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro of Monmouth Junction, who filed a lawsuit seeking marriage rights in 2011 on which Jacobson ruled, exchanged vows at the home of state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) shortly after midnight. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) walked the two women down the aisle.

Steven Goldstein, founder of Garden State Equality, an LGBT rights group, read a Jewish blessing.

14 states and D.C. now allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case that is expected to determine whether same-sex couples can legally marry throughout the state. LGBT rights advocates have filed lawsuits on behalf of gays and lesbians seeking to exchange vows in Pennsylvania and other states that include Virginia, Ohio, Nevada and New Mexico.

Illinois lawmakers this week are poised to potentially debate a measure that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Lawmakers in Hawaii will consider the issue in a special legislative session that begins on Oct. 28.

Oregon officials on Oct. 16 announced they would recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Observers noted Christie had little choice but to drop his appeal of Jacobson’s decision.

“The handwriting was on the wall as clearly as it could possibly be,” Larry Lustberg, a lawyer who represented Walpin and Shapiro and the other plaintiffs in the 2011 case, told reporters on a conference call on Monday as he spoke about the state Supreme Court’s decision. “This was inevitable.”

Hayley Gorenberg of Lambda Legal said during the same conference call that the justices’ ruling is “the last word from the court and marriage equality is now the law in New Jersey.”

Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo applauded Christie’s decision to drop his appeal of Jacobson’s ruling.

“Governor Christie apparently knew he was fighting a losing battle in continuing to fight against marriage equality in the Garden State,” Angelo said in a statement. “Rather than engage in legal gymnastics, decided to plant himself on the right side of history. Log Cabin Republicans thanks Governor Christie for doing the right thing.”

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown sharply criticized the state Supreme Court and Christie.

“The refusal of the New Jersey Supreme Court to order a stay of the same-sex ‘marriage’ ruling was wrong, and the latest example of an activist judiciary running amok, substituting their views for those of the people of the state,” he said. “Still, we are extremely disappointed in Gov. Chris Christie for withdrawing the state’s appeal of the underlying decision, effectively throwing in the towel on marriage. The mark of a leader is to walk a principled walk no matter the difficulty of the path. Chris Christie has failed the test, abandoning both voters and the core institution of society – marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

New Jersey, gay, gay marriage, Washington Blade

Same-sex couples celebrate their weddings inside Jersey City Hall in Jersey City, N.J., on Oct. 21, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Bullock)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael //

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