TRENTON, N.J. — Pioneering couples across New Jersey prepared Sunday night to become the first in the state to be legally married to their same-sex partners.
Same-sex marriages were scheduled to begin Monday at 12:01 a.m. after the New Jersey Supreme Court last week refused to delay a lower court order for the state to start recognizing marriages. The case, however, is still on appeal.
Several couples planned to marry minutes after the state began recognizing the unions. Yet other said they had not been able to get a license. New Jersey law requires that couples wait three days between obtaining a license and getting married.
“There’s a lot of mass confusion and it boils down to the fact that the state should have issued guidance a week ago,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality.
Stevenson said he has 15 volunteer lawyers who are scrambling to find judges who are willing to waive the three-day requirement for couples.
“We’re hoping to make miracles happen, but I wish we didn’t have to,” he said.
One couple who was told Friday they could not get a marriage license will be getting married early Monday after all.
Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought same-sex marriage to the state, were able to obtain a marriage license Sunday night in Aberdeen, their hometown.
The couple found a judge who waived a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for the couple.
A neighbor called the mayor, who agreed to open up the clerk’s office so the couple could get a marriage license.
The couple and their two children are heading to town hall to pick up the paperwork. They’re planning on getting married in Asbury Park at 12:01 a.m.
“We’ll be thrilled to make it happen,” says Karen Nicholson-McFadden.
Township manager Holly Reycraft says the state told the town it could issue licenses after the couple called Friday.
Two other plaintiffs, Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro, planned to seal their 24-year union with a midnight wedding at the home of state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a sponsor of the vetoed gay marriage law. Another state lawmaker who’s been a longtime advocate for same-sex marriage, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, is to walk the couple down the aisle.
Little seems to have changed since the court’s decision Friday. On the New Jersey Department of Health’s website under “How to Apply for a Marriage License,” requirements include “Be of the opposite sex.”
Mayors in cities and towns including Newark, Jersey City, Asbury Park and Lambertville plan to open City Hall late Sunday and marry couples as soon as possible.
But confusion reigned Friday when applying for licenses, and Stevenson said he expects to see far more weddings in the coming week.
“If they could, hundreds and hundreds of couples would get married tonight,” Stevenson said Sunday. “But with this waiting period, it’s not going to be as many as they hoped.”
There is now also a push in the state legislature to gather enough votes to override Christie’s veto of a same-sex marriage bill. Christie does not support same-sex marriage and has said he wants to put the issue on the ballot.
Democratic Sen. Ray Lesniak said even though the Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous and strongly worded, there is a chance it could be overturned. By codifying same-sex marriage into law, it would add another layer of protection.
“There’s also a limbo period now,” he said. “Yes, it’s easy for us to say a strongly worded unanimous decision by the supreme court on this day leaves little chance that this decision will be overturned, but by an override we will eliminate any change.”
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