Even after the state Supreme Court effectively ordered them to give same-sex couples the same rights as their opposite-sex counterparts back in 2006, the state's lawmakers missed several opportunities - most recently in 2010, when then-Gov. Jon Corzine would have signed the bill if his fellow Democrats in the Legislature managed to get their act together. Since then, despite a belated change of heart among lagging Democratic lawmakers, the way was blocked by Gov. Christie and most of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
The governor ultimately triangulated expertly, making his opposition clear enough to protect his presidential prospects, but not so fervent as to alienate too much of the state's relatively liberal electorate. Given a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, a New Jersey lower-court judge ruled that the state must allow same-sex marriages. The New Jersey Supreme Court then telegraphed its support by unanimously declining to keep marriages on hold pending a Christie administration appeal, whereupon the governor announced that he would drop his pursuit of the case.
And so the contest ended without so much as a vote, a law, or a high-court ruling. As Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson's ruling took effect at midnight Monday, the weddings began. In Collingswood, Cherry Hill, Lambertville, Asbury Park, and Newark, people got married.
More attention will turn now to Pennsylvania, the last Northeastern state where same-sex marriage is still against the law. Given the state's relatively conservative cast, a continuing court case is more likely to change the law than recently introduced legislation. In any case, the state's judges and politicians will eventually get their chance to lead or, like their colleagues across the river, merely get out of the way.