Same-sex marriages will start to be performed in New Jersey on Monday and Chris Christie, the state’s Republican governor, isn’t standing in the way anymore.
The New Jersey Supreme Court voted unanimously Friday afternoon to deny Christie’s attempt to block a lower-court decision allowing gay marriages to be performed in the Garden State starting next week. After the decision was released, Christie announced state agencies will start preparing to implement the ruling.
In a statement, Christie’s press secretary said “While the governor firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the State of New Jersey, he has instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with all municipalities in effectuating the order of the Superior Court under the applicable law.”
In September, state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that New Jersey’s ban on same-sex marriage was illegal because it denied gay couples federal benefits that they would be entitled to after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor in June, which declared part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be illegal. Jacobson’s decision required New Jersey to start marrying gay couples on Oct. 21. Christie sought to block the decision from going into effect until his appeal was heard. The ruling today allowed same-sex marriages to be performed while the governor’s appeal is pending.
Christie has walked a fine line on the issue of same-sex marriage. As a likely candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he can’t stray too far from his party’s social-conservative base. But as the GOP governor of a solidly blue state in the Northeast who is up for reelection next month, he can’t alienate his constituents either. A recent poll found that New Jersey voters, by a margin of almost 2 to 1, support same-sex marriage.
He demonstrated the balance he’s had to strike in Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate. When Christie, who supports civil unions, was asked what he would do if one of his children told him he was gay, the New Jersey governor responded by saying he would give them a hug, but then acknowledge to them that “Dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Although Christie vetoed a bill to allow gay marriage in 2012, one New Jersey political insider took the decision today as a sign that “the battle’s over and there’s nothing else to be done.” After all, once gay marriage has been legalized, it’s very hard to get it banned again. The decision may also make things easier for Christie if he runs for president in 2016—the issue will likely be settled for good by then in the Garden State. Christie will be able to demonstrate to conservatives that he’s done everything in his power to protect traditional marriage, without taking extreme stances that might alienate more moderate voters.
In the meantime, gay couples seeking to marry at the stroke of midnight on Monday still face one obstacle that has nothing to do with Christie. The state requires a 72-hour waiting period to apply for a marriage license before a civil wedding can occur; the state’s supreme court issued the ruling on Friday afternoon. Applications for same-sex marriage couldn’t be processed with municipal clerks until the decision was handed down. This means gay couples may have to wait 12 hours longer than anticipated to marry.
This could put a damper on the plans of Newark Mayor and Senator-elect Cory Booker to start marrying gay and heterosexual couples at midnight. Booker had previously refused to officiate at any weddings as a statement of principle until same-sex marriage was legalized.