Christie withdraws appeal on gay marriage in New Jersey
At 4 p.m. Monday, in Judge Richard Russell’s office, Melodie Perri and Suzanne Forrest became the first same-gender couple in Ocean City to be married.
They decided that day, as the legal obstacles to being married in their home state fell apart. They held a quiet service with a few friends and family members.
It was not the first time the couple exchanged vows. They were married through Quaker Meeting in Seaville in 2004, they entered a civil union when that became legal in 2007, and years earlier, they had exchanged private vows, long before their union was afforded any legal recognition.
But Monday’s ceremony changed everything, the couple said Tuesday morning.
In part, they are recognized as married both at the state and federal level, and entitled to all the benefits and protections that entails.
But according to Perri, the word “marriage” is important in its own right.
“It’s a recognition of our relationship. I’ve introduced Sue as my partner, and had people ask if we were in business together. Now we’re married, and everybody understands what that means. Now there won’t be any misunderstanding about our relationship, about who she is to me, and who I am to her.”
The two have been together for 17 years.
The small ceremony on Monday topped off a whirlwind day for the couple, who had already sought a license to marry in Los Angeles. The legalization of gay marriage in New Jersey made them reconsider, and a Monday decision to drop an appeal to the state Supreme Court cemented the decision.
Forrest said they wanted to get married in New Jersey, where they had fought for marriage equality, but they did not want to wait any longer.
“Every day is precious,” she said.
As of Oct. 21, same-sex couples in New Jersey can legally marry, thanks to a decision by Mercer County Superior Judge Mary Jacobson last month. The Christie administration subsequently filed a stay motion regarding the start of same-sex marriages, which Jacobson denied, as well as an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The court agreed to hear the case and also to hear an appeal of the stay motion, which it denied in an opinion released Oct. 18.
On Monday morning, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie advised acting Attorney General John Hoffman to withdraw the state's appeal in the matter of Garden State Equality vs. Paula Dow, legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey.
The state submitted a formal letter of withdrawal to the New Jersey Supreme Court Monday, Oct. 21.
Christie has been an opponent of legalized gay marriage, and had vetoed a bill that would have legalized same sex marriage last year, but this week seemed to have decided it was a fight he could not win.
In a statement released Monday morning, the governor’s office stated that Chief Justice Stuart Rabner left no ambiguity about the court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter when he wrote, “same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.”
According to a statement from the governor’s office, “Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law. The governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”
For Perri and Forrest in Ocean City, that decision cleared the way for a New Jersey marriage. The first gay marriage in the state took place in Elizabeth, just after midnight, between Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro.
Forrest said they were the first same sex couple married in Ocean City, and most likely in Cape May County. They applied for and received a waiver of the requirement to wait 72 hours between the license being issued and the ceremony.
Both women are retired teachers in the Ocean City school district. Forrest was a teacher for 39 years, including 36 in Ocean City, and Perri taught for 33 years, including 25 in Ocean City.
Perri said the support of their friends, their family, the community, and their coworkers was extremely important to them.
“I want to emphasize that we’re so grateful for the love and support that we have receive all along,” she said. That included the staff at the Ocean City Clerk’s office, whom she said could not have been happier for them.
Gay rights advocates have pushed of years for full recognition of same sex couples, who they said could face discrimination in a variety of ways, through tax and inheritance laws, and including visiting rights at a hospital in an emergency. Gay marriage has strong support in New Jersey, but when he vetoed a gay marriage law last year, Christie said he wanted to put it to a vote. Many advocates rejected that route, saying human rights do not belong on the ballot.
In a court decision released Friday, Sept. 27, Jacobson ruled that effective Oct. 21, the state of New Jersey will permit same-sex couples who otherwise satisfy the requirements to enter into a civil marriage to marry in New Jersey.
This suit was brought against the state of New Jersey by Garden State Equality, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization, and six same-sex couples and their children, who held that the New Jersey and United States constitutions guarantee equal protection and because of that require that civil marriage be extended to same-sex couples.
This decision is based off the United States Supreme Court ruling in June, United States v. Windsor, which struck down a portion the Defense of Marriage Act denying marital benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their home states. The plaintiffs contended that because New Jersey allows for civil unions and not marriages for same-sex couples, they are deprived of the federal benefits of marriage.
Just hours after gay couples were able to be legally married in New Jersey, Cape May was already getting phone calls from couples interested in tying the knot in the city.
Patricia Harbora, Cape May’s deputy clerk and registrar of vital statistics, said that in a two-hour window she had received five phone calls. As of Monday, nothing had been officially scheduled.
According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, analyzed by the University of California at the Los Angeles Williams Institute, 180 same sex couples live in Cape May County. There are 16,875 couples throughout the state.
According to that institute, extending marriage to same-sex couples will boost the state’s economy by over $200 million in the next three years. The revenue would support the creation of 1,400 jobs and drive $15.1 million in new revenue for state and local governments through direct spending on weddings and tourism.
For a city like Cape May, which Harbora says is the second largest wedding destination in the country, that could mean big business.
“We’re probably going to get a lot busier now,” Harbora said.
Staff Writers Bill Barlow, Claire Lowe, and Christie Rotondo contributed to this story.
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