N.J. mayor prepares to marry gay couple after judge's ruling
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TRENTON, N.J. The mayor of Lambertville, who performed one of the state's first civil unions in 2007, said he plans to marry one of those same couples on Oct. 21 after a judge ruled that same-sex marriages must be allowed.
Mayor David DelVecchio, D, said he intends to perform the state's first legal gay marriage ceremony for Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey at midnight three weeks from Monday as long as a judge doesn't grant a stay of the Sept. 27 ruling. A handful of couples has already expressed interest in weddings, he said. Lambertville, across the Delaware River from New Hope, Penn., has a large gay population.
"This is just a continuation of the first civil union," DelVecchio, 56, said Monday in an interview. "If a stay is not granted on the 21st, we're going to move forward with this."
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled last week in Trenton that she "will order the state to permit any and all same-sex marriages." Unless the ruling is blocked, it would take effect Oct. 21, making New Jersey the 14th state to allow gay marriages along with the District of Columbia.
Gov. Chris Christie, R, who vetoed a same-sex marriage bill last year, plans to appeal Jacobson's ruling, according to his office.
"Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination," Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, said in a statement on Sept. 27.
Christie is "defending the indefensible" in promising to go to the high court, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, D, said at a Statehouse press conference with party members.
"The governor is a trained attorney. He knows there is no way he could win this appeal," said the Senate majority leader, Loretta Weinberg. "There is no logic behind it. So he should stop wasting taxpayer money and drop it."
Neither Drewniak nor Colin Reed, spokesmen for Christie, responded to a phone call and e-mails for comment.
The Democrats will ask the state Supreme Court to take up the issue immediately, said Senate President Steve Sweeney, D. He also said he will continue to seek support for an override of Christie's veto.
The Superior Court ruling helped push the number of legislative yes votes "closer than we were before," said Lesniak, though he and Sweeney declined to say how many lawmakers are committed to an override.
An override would require 27 votes in the Senate, where Democrats rule 24-16, and 54 in the Assembly, where they dominate 48-32.
Christie, who is seeking re-election in November and may run for president in 2016, has said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. He has said the question of gay marriage should be decided by voters in a referendum, and he would honor the results.
Democrats resisted Christie's call, saying gay marriage is a civil right that doesn't belong on the ballot. Christie's administration defended civil unions in the case before Jacobson.
In 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled that gay couples are entitled to the same rights under the state constitution as married couples of opposite sexes. That led then-Gov. Jon Corzine, D, to sign a law creating civil unions. That law was challenged in court by Lambda Legal, a national advocacy group that says unions don't provide marriage's benefits and protections.
New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois, which all allow civil unions, are the battlegrounds for gay-rights advocates emboldened by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a law that denied federal benefits to same-sex married couples.
Jacobson, in her decision, said her Oct. 21 effective date would "allow the state adequate time to effectuate this ruling or to pursue appellate remedies." The state has 45 days from the date of the ruling to appeal, according to Tamara Kendig, spokeswoman for the New Jersey judiciary.
"It's a little difficult to plan, given those ifs, ands or buts," said Asaro, 53, who plans to wed Schailey, 56, a registered nurse, in their hometown of Lambertville.
"We're not sure whether civil unions will be automatically converted to marriage," Asaro, a product manager for AT&T Inc. and a city council member, said in a phone interview. "If it's a conversion, so to speak, we'll use it as an opportunity to spread the wealth, to let everyone know that Lambertville is open for business for gay marriage."
_ With assistance from David Voreacos in Newark.