Hours after New Jersey’s first same-sex weddings began amid flowers and camera flashes, Republican Governor Chris Christie withdrew his legal objections, saying courts had made their position clear.
Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate who is seeking re-election as governor Nov. 5, lost a bid last week to block the ceremonies. His administration submitted a formal letter of withdrawal to the state Supreme Court today.
Chief Justice Stuart 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’s office said in a statement.
The ceremonies, beginning one second after midnight, made New Jersey the 14th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, settling a debate embroiled in cultural politics.
In Lambertville, a city of about 4,000 people on the Delaware River, Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey said “I do” before Mayor David DelVecchio in what they believed was the state’s first such ceremony.
“I’m equal now,” Asaro, 53, a city councilwoman, told reporters after the vows. “I’m not an exception on all the forms.”
Hours later, after Christie’s decision, Asaro said she was well pleased. “It was the momentum and, for whatever reason he did it, he just did the right thing,” she said. “It was the complete icing on the cake.”
At City Hall in Newark, the state’s most populous city, Cory Booker, the two-term Democratic mayor who was voted to the U.S. Senate in an Oct. 16 special election, officiated for seven gay and two heterosexual couples who descended a set of curving steps just before midnight. They were greeted in the marble rotunda by a crowd of about 200, many of whom said they wanted to see history.
A protester briefly disrupted proceedings when he shouted that the unions were against God’s law. Police escorted him out. Booker went on to declare Joseph Panessidi, 65, a retired advertising executive, and Orville Bell, 65, a teacher, were “lawful spouses,” and the crowd whooped.
Booker, 44, who had refused to perform heterosexual weddings in his city of 277,700 because he objected to same-sex couples’ exclusion, called the ceremonies “one of the greatest privileges of my life.” He is awaiting his swearing in to the Senate after defeating Republican Steve Lonegan in a race to fill the remaining 15 months in the term of Democrat Frank Lautenberg, who died at 89 in June.
In Jersey City, Meredith Greenberg, 37, and Leora Pearlman, 39, of Montclair exchanged vows this morning overlooking the Hudson River and New York, where they married two years ago after taking their families out for Chinese food. The couple, who have three sons from 3 to 9, also exchanged vows 12 years ago in Florida and had a New Jersey civil union.
“We’re the most married people you’ve ever met,” Greenberg said.
The state Supreme Court cleared the path to gay nuptials Oct. 18 when it unanimously denied a stay requested by Christie. The decision set off a dash for marriage licenses at municipal offices.
Christie, 51, vetoed a bill to allow same-sex marriage in February 2012.
A practicing Roman Catholic, Christie has said marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman and had said a change was too important for the courts or the legislature to make. He said voters should decide.
“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,” Christie’s office said in the statement. “The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law.”
Most New Jerseyans disagree with the governor, polls show.
In a Quinnipiac University survey released Oct. 10, 61 percent of likely voters said Christie should drop his opposition to the Sept. 27 decision by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson that the state’s civil-union law discriminates against same-sex couples.
Christie’s stance hasn’t given his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, 60, who supports gay marriage, an edge. The Quinnipiac poll showed 62 percent backed the governor’s re-election to 33 percent who supported Buono.
New Jersey, the most densely populated U.S. state, was home to 16,875 same-sex couples in 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the University of California at Los Angeles’s Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation and gender-based public-policy issues.
Legalizing gay marriage would add $200 million to the New Jersey economy mainly through weddings and tourism, creating more than 1,400 jobs and generating $15.1 million in state and local-government revenue over three years, according to a 2009 study by the institute.
New Jersey is beset by unemployment that measured 8.5 percent in August, higher than the rate in surrounding states and more than the U.S. figure of 7.3 percent.
New York City reaped $259 million in economic benefits during the first year of gay marriages, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last year. More than 200,000 guests traveled from outside of the city to attend same-sex wedding receptions in the 12-month period, and more than 235,000 hotel room nights were booked, according to a statement from the mayor and Council President Christine Quinn. Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
In Lambertville, the Asaro-Schailey ceremony drew about 100 activists, family, friends and neighbors who crammed a tiny municipal meeting room. The couple were among New Jersey’s first to enter a civil union, in 2007, and were married in New York two years ago.
Asaro, a products manager for AT&T Inc., wore a pink suit and pearls. Schailey, 56, a nurse, wore a black suit. They were joined at the ceremony by their 13-year-old adopted daughter. The couple entered the room to Shania Twain’s “Still the One,” which they said was appropriate for their long path.
“They’re achieving something, not of my doing but of their own doing, that previously couldn’t happen and in that respect they’re certainly pioneers,” Mayor DelVecchio said. “Four or five years from now, people will look back and say, ’What was the fuss about?’”