October 21 turned out to be a big day for LGBT couples in New Jersey. First, the midnight deadline passed and same-sex marriage became law across the state. In Newark, Mayor and Senator-elect Cory Booker presided over nine late-night marriages at city hall (seven gay and two heterosexual), starting with his longtime friends Joe Panessidi and Orville Bell. Booker has been mayor in Newark for seven years but has never performed a wedding before. “I wasn’t going to marry anybody unless I could marry everybody,” he told NJ.com
When Booker paused for the traditional request that anyone with objections say their piece, a protestor shouted that the union was “unlawful in the eyes of God.” Booker ordered the man escorted out and drew cheers with a concise rejoinder: “Not hearing any substantive and worthy objections, I will proceed with the vows.”
Bell and Panessidi have been together for fifteen years and had a civil union ceremony in 2009. Today’s wedding made them the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Newark and one of the first in the state. “You may kiss your spouse, and you may hug your mayor,” the visibly jubilant Booker told them.
Hours later and sixty miles away in Trenton, Governor Chris Christie announced that he would not appeal the court decision mandating marriage equality across the state. Christie, a Republican governor of a Democratic leaning state and an early favorite for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination, has long expressed personal and political objections to same-sex marriage, vetoing a 2012 bill that would have legalized such unions. Christie contends that the decision about what kinds of marriage the state will allow should be up to voters.
But today’s announcement that the governor was withdrawing his appeal of the landmark decision seemed to remove the last legal obstacle facing gay couples in the state. “Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court, the court has now spoken and same-sex marriage is the law,” Christie spokesman Colin Reed said. “The governor will do his constitutional duty and enforce the law.” Christie had asked for a stay of the decision last week, and the court’s unanimous decision against the proposal seemed to telegraph their response to further objections.
New Jersey became the 14th state to allow same-sex marriage, joining Minnesota, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, and California this year and Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, and Maine. Same-sex marriage is also legal in the District of Columbia.