N.J. Towns in Same-Sex Marriage Licensing Quandary on Legal Move

While Newark Mayor Cory Booker irons out legal issues before he’ll fulfill his hope of marrying gay couples, other New Jersey town officials are preparing for the Oct. 21 start date for same-sex marriages.

Barring a state Supreme Court stay requested by Republican Governor Chris Christie that would put the legalization on hold, New Jersey will become the 14th U.S. state to allow gay nuptials, as ordered last month by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson in Mercer County.

In Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, Booker has refused to officiate any weddings until gay couples are allowed to marry. Booker, 44, won this week’s special U.S. Senate election.

“As a passionate advocate for marriage equality, Mayor Booker has long hoped to be able to marry same-sex couples in Newark City Hall,” James Allen, a spokesman for Booker, said in an e-mail. “The city is currently ironing out some legal issues before determining the appropriate next steps. The mayor has nothing to confirm or announce about ceremonies at this time and no licenses have been issued.”

Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca would officiate at any licensed ceremony, though his office hadn’t received any marriage applications as of 11 a.m., said Elizabeth Fritzen, the township clerk.

‘Very Gray’

Asbury Park, the run-down beach resort revived by a surge of gay homeowners, went against the advice of the state registrar and accepted paperwork from three couples yesterday, said Tom Gilmour, a city spokesman.

“Whether we’ll actually be able to make them official on Monday or not is still very gray,” Gilmour said. “We’re trying, just like everyone else in the world right now, to get some firm direction here as to what we’re allowed to do.”

Applications are subject to a 72-hour wait for licensing, Fritzen and Gilmour said. The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled yet on Christie’s request for a stay, which Jacobson denied Oct. 10.

In Lambertville, a city of about 3,900 residents on the Delaware River where restaurants and art galleries display gay-pride flags, Mayor David DelVecchio had plans to preside over New Jersey’s first same-sex wedding at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 21. He had officiated in 2007 at one of the state’s first civil unions, of Beth Asaro, 53, a city councilwoman, and Joanne Schailey, 56, a registered nurse.

Legal Direction

Lambertville had a list of 10 to 12 couples interested in licenses, though it hadn’t processed any applications, DelVecchio said by telephone last night. He didn’t immediately respond to a phone message today.

In an e-mail yesterday to New Jersey’s 21 county registrars, State Registrar Vincent Arrisi said that his office had received many inquiries on how to proceed and was “awaiting legal direction on if and when we can start taking applications.”

“At this point, you cannot take applications for same-sex marriages until you hear from this office that we have the authority to do so,” Arrisi wrote.

The e-mail was confirmed as genuine by Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the state health department, which oversees Arrisi’s office. It was distributed by state Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, an openly gay Democrat from Trenton, who questioned whether Christie was cooperating with Jacobson’s ruling.

“By telling municipalities that they can’t accept same-sex marriage applications, it appears the state registrar is unilaterally issuing a stay on Judge Jacobson’s order before the Supreme Court weighs in on the matter,” Gusciora said in a statement. “And if this edict did not originate from the State Registrar himself, then who’s pushing the buttons?”

Emergency Appeal

Michael Drewniak, a spokesmen for Christie, said in an e-mail that the governor had no role in Arrisi’s communication, and he referred questions to Leusner.

“The issue of a stay is still not settled by the Supreme Court,” Leusner said in an e-mail. “The registrar was merely advising that he is awaiting legal guidance.”

John Hoffman, the acting state attorney general, was denied an Oct. 1 request for Jacobson to put the start date on hold, leading the state to file an emergency appeal. Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Hoffman, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail.

Christie, 51, vetoed same-sex marriage legislation in February 2012. A practicing Roman Catholic, he has said he believes marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman.

The governor has said that voters should decide the issue and that he would abide by the results. Democrats, who control the legislature, have said marriage is a civil right that doesn’t belong on the ballot.

A majority of New Jersey likely voters, 61 percent to 32 percent, said Christie should drop his appeal, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Oct. 10. Christie leads his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, 62 percent to 33 percent in next month’s election, the poll found. Buono, 60, whose daughter is openly gay, supports same-sex marriage.

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