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New Jersey begins holding same-sex weddings

A pioneering gay couple is among the first to marry one minute after midnight.

October 20, 2013|By Matt Hamilton
  • Beth Asaro, left, and Joanne Schailey share a moment with their daughter after they exchanged vows to become the first same-sex marriage in Lambertville, New Jersey history at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Beth Asaro, left, and Joanne Schailey share a moment with their daughter… (Rich Schultz, Associated…)

At 12:01 a.m. Monday, Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey said "I do" in the place that matters most to them — and became among the first gay couples to wed in New Jersey, the 14th state to permit same-sex marriage.

They've been together 27 years, since Asaro asked Schailey out for a movie and Chinese food. In 2007, they became the first Garden State couple to be joined in a civil union. When New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, they formally wed there. But that wasn't the place they've called home for 16 years.

This time, "It really means everything," Asaro, of Lambertville, said in a telephone interview as she prepped for her post-midnight nuptials. "What's really going through our mind is to not faint. It's so huge."

After the clock struck midnight Sunday, several city halls began performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. The New Jersey Supreme Court set the ceremonies in motion by refusing to block a lower court order that called for marriages to begin Monday. The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, called Monday "the day that New Jerseyans have been waiting for for decades," but cautioned that the legality was not set in stone.

Last year, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, saying he wanted the issue put to a vote. Stevenson's organization is pushing to build enough support in the Legislature to pass another gay marriage bill and override any future veto.

The state Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage per se, but has said that the state failed to show it was likely to prevail. Friday's ruling states that marriages can be performed for same-sex couples while the case proceeds. Oral arguments are scheduled for January.

But advocates are encouraged by the opinion, written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

"The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today," Rabner wrote. "The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."

Although Christie has repeatedly said he opposes same-sex marriage, he will abide by the court ruling, his press secretary said.

"While the governor firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the state of New Jersey, he has instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with all municipalities in effectuating the order of the Superior Court under the applicable law," Michael Drewniak said in a statement.

The District of Columbia also allows gay marriage.

The court's opinion came as good news to Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio, who works closely with Asaro, a City Council member.

"It's really giving them full citizenship," DelVecchio said. "Everything in life will be easier. They'll have the same rights that we have."

DelVecchio performed the civil union and the marriage ceremony for Asaro and Schailey.

Since Asaro and Schailey were already legally married in New York, New Jersey's 72-hour waiting period after obtaining a marriage license didn't constrain them. But other couples were scrambling to get a waiver before midnight.

Garden State Equality's Stevenson said a judge in Essex County had issued waivers for same-sex couples in Newark and Asbury Park. The Associated Press reported that a judge in Aberdeen had waived the wait for Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit wending its way through the courts. They were to wed in Asbury Park.

Newark Mayor (and U.S. Sen.-elect) Cory Booker was to perform the weddings of seven couples, both gay and straight. During his first ceremony, a protester interrupted, calling gay marriage "unlawful in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ." The protester was removed and the ceremony continued, the Associated Press reported.

As for Asaro, her sister-in-law had finished applying her makeup hours before the nuptials, she said, and she was getting ready to slip into her Jackie O.-style pink sleeveless wedding dress from Neiman Marcus.

But a honeymoon will have to wait until spring.

Last fall, Superstorm Sandy wrecked their Seaside Park vacation home just a month after they bought it. They hope the repairs will be finished by March.

"We'll go down there and finally enjoy it," Asaro said, "for the first time."

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