N.J. court won't halt gay marriages; towns accept applications

Keith Mullineaux (left) and Anthony Murabito are the first gay couple to apply for a marriage license in Collingswood from deputy registrar Kathy McCarthy. Same-sex marriage applications will be accepted in the Camden County borough on Saturday as well.
Keith Mullineaux (left) and Anthony Murabito are the first gay couple to apply for a marriage license in Collingswood from deputy registrar Kathy McCarthy. Same-sex marriage applications will be accepted in the Camden County borough on Saturday as well. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 20, 2013

In what is being seen as a major victory for marriage equity, New Jersey's highest court resoundingly refused to stand in the way of same-sex marriages' commencing in the state Monday.

The state Supreme Court unanimously denied the Christie administration's request to not allow same-sex marriages pending its appeal of a lower court decision clearing the way for them.

In a 7-0 ruling, the court stated in its decision Friday "that the public interest does not favor a stay."

In a statement, Gov. Christie's spokesman said: "The Supreme Court has made its determination. 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."

Christie in February 2012 vetoed a bill that would have allowed gay and lesbian couples to wed. Same-sex marriage supporters are trying to secure enough votes for an override.

But for now, at least, the state's first same-sex marriages will proceed.

On Sept. 27, Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson ruled in Garden State Equality v. Dow that the state's civil union law violates same-sex couples' civil rights by denying them federal benefits and protections.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the appeal of Jacobson's decision in January.

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal, which helped bring the case, hailed Friday's ruling as "the strongest of decisions."

"The Supreme Court has unanimously found that the government has not shown a likelihood to succeed" on appeal, Gorenberg said, "and the same-sex couples of New Jersey and their families must be married because there is no public interest, no public good, in denying New Jerseyans their rights."

Garden State Equality executive director Troy Stevenson noted that in a matter of days, New Jersey gay and lesbian couples will get to marry in their home state, but he also said the fastest way to ensure marriage equality is through the Legislature. He urged supporters to contact their lawmakers.

"Monday will be a historic day, but it doesn't mean we're done," Stevenson said. "We will not rest until every single New Jersey couple is valued and protected equally in the state they call home."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said the unanimous ruling "is yet another victory in the fight for marriage equality in New Jersey and affirms what we already knew: that same-sex marriage will inevitably be the law of the land."

To others, the decision was a big disappointment.

Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, said he was "shocked" the court did not put marriages on hold until it reached a final decision on the appeal.

"We are being ruled by a black-robed judicial oligarchy," Deo said.

Earlier Friday, before the decision was released, the municipalities of Collingswood, Asbury Park, and Red Bank started accepting marriage license applications so same-sex couples could marry on Oct. 21, given the state's 72-hour-wait requirement.

Those municipalities defied a Health Department directive issued Thursday to not accept the applications until the department got legal guidance.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D., Mercer) accused the Christie administration of "stonewalling"' on the court order and likened the directive to not accept applications to "unilaterally issuing a stay."

Collingswood Mayor James Maley said it was "ridiculous" that the state Attorney General's Office had not provided guidance.

"It's disrespectful of the court's order. It's disrespectful of these couples," Maley said.

Collingswood will also take marriage license applications Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the community center.

After the decision, a Health Department spokeswoman said State Registrar Vincent Arrisi had instructed local registrars to start processing license applications from same-sex couples "immediately" and to treat them and those of opposite-sex couples equally.

It could not be determined how many towns started taking applications following the court's decision, but it was known that Cherry Hill was one of them.

For same-sex couples, it was an exhilarating day of rapid changes and some unexpected developments. Collingswood residents Anthony Murabito, 28, and Keith Mullineaux, 33, together for three years, had planned on applying for their marriage license Monday, but hurried to the borough hall when they heard they could apply Friday.

They forgot their checkbooks for the $28 deposit.

"My sister paid. Early wedding gift," Murabito said.

Two hours after filling out the marriage application, Murabito got word that the Supreme Court had denied the stay.

"We're even more ecstatic now knowing the Supreme Court said we can go ahead," Murabito said. "It's really a great day for us."

The two are to marry Thursday in the sister's backyard, weather permitting. The cake will be by bakers at Crumbs Pastry Shoppe in Cherry Hill Mall, where Murabito works. Mullineaux is a phlebotomist. The two will look at tuxes after picking up their license Monday.

"We both have off," Murabito said. "It'll be a day of planning."

Manish and Jeff Mishra-Marzetti, ages 42 and 43, Manish the senior minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill and Jeff a stay-at-home father to their 21/2-year-old son, Jacen, hoped to apply for a license Monday in Cherry Hill, but learned they could do it Friday.

They will be among four couples Mayor Chuck Cahn is expected to marry Monday evening.

"My  head is spinning!" Manish Mishra-Marzetti texted. "We woke up this morning not even sure if licenses would be issued on Monday and we're being married by the Mayor!"

Around the state, some mayors were quick to say that they wanted to be among the first to officiate at weddings for their constituents. Newark's Cory Booker, now a U.S. senator-elect, tweeted that he would marry gay and straight couples at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Up to now, a spokesman said, he had refused to officiate at weddings due to what he considered the inequality of the law.

A spokeswoman for Jersey City Mayor Steven M. Fulop said that city had also accepted license applications Friday and that Fulop would perform ceremonies Monday.

Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio is set to marry Beth Asaro, 53, a phone company manager and city councilwoman, and Joanne Schailey, 56, a nurse, around 12:01 a.m. Monday. He officiated at their civil union ceremony in 2007, one of the first in the state.

Asaro said they had planned to go to Lambertville's Community Justice Center around that time to apply for a license, but were surprised to learn Thursday that because they had gotten married already in New York state, they are not required to undergo the 72-hour wait.

They will have to hustle to pull together the pre-wedding party they thought would be next Thursday, but Asaro said they want to make a point.

"We want to make sure government knows this is something very serious," Asaro said. "This is people's lives."


rgiordano@phillynews.com

610-627-2649

@ritagiordano

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Melanie Burney, Suzette Parmley, Andrew Seidman, and Julia Terruso.

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