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 said in an opinion by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. “The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.”
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 appeals.
The state’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, Rabner wrote that the state has not shown that it is likely to prevail in the case, though it did present some reasons not to marriage to move forward now.
“But when a party presents a clear case of unequal treatment, and asks the court to vindicate constitutionally protected rights, a court may not sidestep its obligation to rule for an indefinite amount of time,” he wrote. “Under these circumstances, courts do not have the option to defer.”
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.
“What is the public’s interest in a case like this?” he wrote. “Like Judge Jacobson, we can find no public interest in depriving a group of New Jersey residents of their constitutional right to equal protection while the appeals process unfolds.”
Christie disagrees with the ruling, a spokesman said Friday, but he will comply with it.
The governor “firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the state of New Jersey.” spokesman Michael Drewniak said. He added that the state Health Department will help towns carry out the ruling.
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.
Several communities, including Asbury Park and Lambertville, are holding ceremonies for multiple couples then.
Sheila Oliver, speaker of the state Assembly, issued a statement blaming Christie for not having gay marriage sooner in New Jersey.
“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 rights,” she said. “New Jersey could have had marriage equality already 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.”