Christie drops N.J. gay marriage appeal

Gov. Chris Christie has dropped his appeal to legalized same-sex marriages in New Jersey.

In an email, the governor’s office says it submitted a formal withdrawal to the state Supreme Court Monday morning.

Last month, a lower-court judge ruled that New Jersey must recognize gay marriages starting Monday. Gay couples began exchanging vows shortly after midnight all over the state.  Beth Asaro, who married her partner of 27 years Joanne Schailey in Lambertville early this morning had told reporters Gov. Christie should withdraw his appeal.  

The Republican governor, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, had been asking the state’s top court to overturn that ruling. But he announced Monday he was dropping the appeal.

Christie’s administration says 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 says the Supreme Court was clearly going to favor same-sex marriage and that he has a constitutional duty to enforce the law.

When the New Jersey Supreme Court on Friday rejected Christie’s request for a “stay” that would have put on hold the lower court’s ruling, the opinion said the state could not prove it would be harmed by same-sex marriages going forward.  On the other hand, the unanimous court wrote “same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.  The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.”  The opinion also questioned whether the Christie administration could prevail when given the chance for full arguments in January.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer County), the first openly-gay member of the legislature applauded Christie’s decision. “I think it’s great that the governor has embraced the concept of equality, and its even greater news for taxpayers,” Gusciora said. “I think it would have been foolish to proceed with the lawsuit.”

ACLU-NJ’s Executive Director Udi Ofer called the decision “an unexpected but joyous development for the gay and lesbian couples who tied the knot at the stroke of midnight today and to the many more who will follow this week.”

Sally Goldfarb who teaches family law at Rutgers Camden says for the couples involved, getting married should make life simpler in some regards.  Even when couples got partnered through civil unions, they would often run into issues that married couples would not, even when the civil union law specifically guaranteed them equal protections.  Goldfarb says a commission set up to evaluate civil unions heard lots of testimony about deficiencies.

“One man who testified before the commission said he and his civil union partner had gotten in the habit of carrying, at all times, a thumbdrive with a PDF of their civil union licence and the N.J. statute explaining what a civil union is,” Goldfarb said. “Because they were afraid, and they had the experience of finding that many entities did not recognize what a civil union was and were not giving them recognition.”

Goldfarb says even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act this summer, couples in civil unions could not qualify for federal benefits such as Social Security survivor benefits.  

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