TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey’s highest court has agreed to hear a case on whether gay marriage should be legal in the state.
The state Supreme Court accepted the case Friday, skipping the normal course of letting an appeals court hear it first.
A lower-court judge ruled last month that the state must legalize same-sex marriage starting Oct. 21.
The top court is also considering whether to delay implementation of the lower-court ruling until it has ruled on the overall case. Arguments are set for January.
The announcement from the state Supreme Court came hours after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration argued a single judge shouldn’t be able to force the state to recognize gay marriage.
That was one of the arguments in legal papers filed Friday by the state in support of its effort to delay implementation of a judge’s order last month.
The brief for an appeals court came a day after Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson turned down New Jersey’s request to delay the effective date of her order while the state Supreme Court decides whether she was right.
As WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported, the legal back-and-forth has gay couples in the Garden State so far shying away from setting a wedding date.
“At this point they’re playing it pretty much low-key,” Rev. Charles Ortman at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Montclair said.
He said some of his gay and lesbian members want to get married Oct. 21, but recall history.
“Too many times already, the prospect of marriage equality has been on the table and it’s been pulled back,” Rev. Ortman told Putney.
Wedding planner Carla Friday, who owns Details Made Simple, said she also hasn’t been hearing from couples in New Jersey hoping to get married later this month.
“No, not at this point. The only one we received is for New York,” she told Putney.
Ortman said couples are planning on getting married, just not yet making reservations. And he says he can’t blame them.
“I’ve watched people’s spirits be crushed too many times already,” he told Putney.
Last month, Judge Jacobson ruled that the state must recognize same-sex nuptials starting Oct. 21, saying the state is blocking some of its residents from federal legal protection for their relationships.
The administration of Christie, a Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate, is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn Jacobson’s decision.
In the meantime, the state also asked Jacobson to delay the mandate until the main case is sorted out by higher courts.
On Thursday, Jacobson refused.
A delay “would simply allow the state to continue to violate the equal protection rights of New Jersey same-sex couples, which can hardly be considered a public interest,” she said in her opinion.
Gay rights supporters lauded the ruling, which moves New Jersey a step closer to having same-sex marriages occur this month.
Christie supports civil unions, which the state has had since 2007, but says marriage laws should be changed only by a popular vote.
“I don’t think that should be decided by 121 politicians in Trenton or seven judges on the Supreme Court,” he said at a debate this week. “It should be decided by the 8.8 million people of New Jersey.”
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