December 4, 2013 Sections
The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
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.
A judge on the lower court had ruled last month that New Jersey must recognize same-sex marriage and set Monday as the date to allow gay weddings. Christie, a Republican who is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, appealed the decision and asked for the start date to be put on hold while the state Supreme Court decides the case.
"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."
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said the governor will comply with the ruling, though he disagrees with it.
The ruling puts New Jersey on the cusp of becoming the 14th state — and the third most populous among them — to allow same-sex marriage. The advocacy group Freedom to Marry said that as of Monday one-third of Americans will live in a place where same-sex marriage is legal.
It's being debated elsewhere, too. Oregon has begun recognizing same-sex weddings performed out of state, and it is likely that voters will get a chance next year to repeal the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage. The legislature in Hawaii also soon could take up a bill to legalize same-sex unions, while a similar measure has passed the Illinois Senate but not the House. Lawsuits challenging gay marriage bans also are pending in several states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
New Jersey's top court agreed last week to take up the appeal of the lower-court ruling by Judge Mary Jacobson. Oral arguments are expected Jan. 6 or 7.
In Friday's opinion, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that the state has not shown that it is likely to prevail in the case.
Rabner also rejected the state's argument that it was in the public interest not to allow marriages until the court has had more time to rule fully on the issue.
For those opposed to gay marriage, denying the request to delay was troubling. "In what universe does it make sense to let the question at hand be answered before it's asked or argued?" Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, said in a letter Friday to his members.
On Thursday, some communities started accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples so that they would pass the 72-hour waiting period by 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Christie says he favours civil unions and says that allowing same-sex marriage is something that should be done only by a public vote, not the state's judges or lawmakers.
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