ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Chris Christie has dropped his appeal to legalized same-sex marriages in New Jersey, hours after the state became the 14th in the nation to recognize same-sex nuptials.
In an email Monday morning, the governor’s office said it was withdrawing its appeal because the chief justice on Friday “left no ambiguity” about the court’s view.
Christie’s administration said he strongly disagrees with the court substituting “its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people.”
But he said Friday’s ruling showed the Supreme Court was clearly going to favor same-sex marriage and that he has a constitutional duty to enforce the law.
Christie, who favors civil unions but opposes gay marriage, had been asking the state’s top court to overturn that ruling, and not to force the state to recognize same-sex marriage until the appeal was resolved.
The court agreed to hear the overall case in January, but announced Friday it would not delay the start of the marriages, in part because it said the state is not likely to prevail in its arguments next year.
Gay rights groups said Christie’s decision guarantees freedom for gay couples to get married.
“He watched the love on display. I think he saw how much they for each other it is one thing to stand in the way of civil rights, and it is another thing to see them right at your face and to have to get up the next morning and tell those couples you are going to rip those marriages apart,” said Troy Stevenson of Garden State Equality. “I don’t think he could do that.”
Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop presided of the marriage between Meredith Greenberg and Leora Perlman on Monday after Christie withdrew the appeal. They exchanged their vows on the Jersey City waterfront.
“I feel affirmed. We’ve been together for over 16 years,” Greenberg said after she and her wife exchanged vows. “It’s better late than never. I’ve got to say, Gov. Christie, I know your heart has to be in the right place.”
Fulop said he thinks Christie’s move was largely political.
“While this is a good thing, he’s going to get praised for backing off when in reality he didn’t support it all along,” Fulop said.
Gary Berger and Ulysses Grant Dietz were also among the couples who legally tied the knot Monday in New Jersey.
Dietz is the curator of the Newark Museum and the great-great-grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States.
“I think if he was alive today, I think he’d be fine with it. I think during his lifetime, it might have been a problem,” Dietz told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot on Monday afternoon.
Berger and Dietz have been together for 38 years and exchanged vows in Maplewood.
“The world has changed pretty fast,” Dietz told WCBS 880. “We had a civil union back in 2007 and we did a domestic partnership.”
He said this ceremony and being able to call his longtime partner his husband was special.
“Our kids were with us and friends were with us, people from my church, people from my job, people from the community. People just showed up because I mentioned it on Facebook and they all said ‘oh, we’re going to be there’ and it was very touching,” Dietz added.
A majority of New Jersey voters agree with Christie’s decision to drop the appeal, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released on Monday showed.
Those polled supported the state accepting the decision versus appealing to the state Supreme Court, 53 percent to 40 percent.
“Beliefs about same-sex marriage have shifted rapidly,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers. “Fully one-quarter of today’s supporters tell us they were previously opposed. Not long ago, a ruling like this would have created a significant backlash. Now most voters agree with it.”
WEB EXTRA: Full Poll Results (pdf)
The poll found 61 percent of voters support same-sex marriage, compared with 27 percent opposed and 12 percent who say they’re unsure.
For the first time, the poll found a plurality of Republican voters support same-sex marriage.
Overall, voters were split on whether gay marriage should be a state’s rights issue or federally mandated, 44 percent to 47 percent, respectively.
The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll surveyed 799 registered voters by phone from Oct. 7 to 13. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Across the state, a wave of same-sex couples held ceremonies at the stroke of midnight, including Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro, who were among the first to tie the knot.
The couple married at the home of State Sen. Raymond Lesniak in Elizabeth, who co-sponsored the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State.
The two had joined the lawsuit seeking marriage equality that led to the groundbreaking decision after being together for more than two decades.
PHOTOS: Same-Sex Couples Wed In NJ
“We raised four children and we have a grandchild and another on the way and last week we became engaged after all that,” said Shapiro.
Another state senator, Loretta Weinberg, gave the couple away. And Steven Goldstein, the founder and former leader of Garden State Equality, gave a prayer.
In Newark, Mayor Cory Booker, who refused to officiate weddings until same-sex marriage was legal, married half a dozen couples.
“I’m one of the actors of the state by an arm of the government,” Booker explained. “And it was offensive to me on a very spiritual level, on a very sort of American level that I should be allowed to bestow that legal document only on certain Americans, not other ones.”
There was a brief disruption at Newark’s City Hall from a protester who cried out, “This is unlawful in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ,” before Booker declared Gabriela Celeiro and Liz Salerno “lawful spouses.”
The protester was quickly shown the door.
After the protester was removed, the mayor, choking up, paused, put his hand over his heart and said, “This is very beautiful.”
A few minutes before midnight Sunday in Jersey City, Mayor Fulop gathered eight couples in the front of the city council chambers to conduct a swift mass ceremony.
“I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime,” said Barbara Milton after she was married to Kay Osborn. “To have this moment of equality is overwhelming.”
On Monday evening, Stewart Fishbein and Peter Aupperle became the first same-sex couple to get married in Hoboken. They said “I do” on the steps of the Hoboken City Hall after more than 20 years together, CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco reported.
“We’re really happy to have it all made official,” Fishbein said.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer officiated for the ceremonies, and Aupperle said he is glad Christie has decided to drop his appeal.
“Now we’re set we’re married, and we don’t have to worry about this changing in a couple of months or something like that,” Aupperle said.
Couples like Fishbein and Aupperle also hope other states will follow in the footsteps of New Jersey.
After the State Supreme Court’s decision on Friday, some municipal offices stayed open over the weekend and issued marriage licenses. But a 72-hour waiting period has forced some couples to get married later in the week.
Robert Shaffron and John Davis, who have been together 26 years, set a Nov. 8 date for their ceremony in Maplewood, N.J.
“Our kids live here. Our kids were at our civil union ceremony, which took place here, and they were very, very excited to be part of that, and so we decided we would do it here instead of New York,” Shaffron said.
The couples married Monday can receive all the state and federal benefits of marriage, giving them benefits and protections including being allowed to file tax returns jointly and Social Security survivor benefits.
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