Same-sex couples in New Jersey began applying for marriage licenses Wednesday, according to Garden State Equality, following a recent court ruling requiring that the state no longer limit marriage to unions between one man and one woman.
"The time for marriage is now and there should be no further delay," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, in a press release Thursday. "We applaud mayors for taking the proactive approach by providing the freedom to marry as quickly as possible to all couples within their jurisdiction."
Stevenson told MSNBC that his group confirmed two New Jersey mayors--one in Asbury Park, and the other in Red Bank--had directed their local clerks to begin processing marriage license applications from same-sex couples. The instruction is in line with a recent decision from Judge Mary Jacobson, who last month ruled that gay couples could begin marrying on Oct. 21. State law requires a 72-hour waiting period for a marriage application to go through.
"In order for us to be ready, we have to start the process," said Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna to MSNBC. "I have directed the clerk for the borough of Red Bank to accept applications for marriage licenses beginning tomorrow."
The mayors' actions prompted the state Health Department to order the opposite--that all municipal clerks refuse applications from same-sex couples.
"Hi everyone, I know you are being inundated with questions and requests from the public but we are still awaiting legal direction on it and when we can start taking applications," according to an emal from someone at the Health Department, reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger. "At this point, you cannot take applications for same-sex marriages until you hear from this office that we have the authority to do so."
Judge Jacobson last week denied the state's request for a stay on her order while a superior court considered its appeal. Gov. Christie's administration then filed an emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court, which said it would hear arguments in the suit next year. However, the court did not move to suspend Jacobson's earlier ruling, allowing local mayors to begin the process of accepting marriage license applications from same-sex couples.
Mayor Menna said that if the Supreme Court issued a stay in the coming days, "we would have to comply."
New Jersey is one of four states that allows gay couples to enter into civil unions, a recognition enacted by the legislature after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that gay couples be given the same rights and protections as heterosexual spouses. Jacobson ruled that by preventing gay couples from marrying, New Jersey was in violation of its state constitution.