Same-sex marriage became legal Monday (Oct. 21) in New Jersey without further argument when Gov. Chris Christie dropped his appeal of a judicial ruling in support of such unions. The announcement of the Republican governor's action came hours after gay couples began exchanging wedding vows with the approval of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Christie's decision not to continue with an appeal to the state's high court removed any doubt New Jersey would become the 14th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The state Supreme Court had signaled the governor's appeal had little chance of success when it refused Oct. 18 his request to block a lower court's order for New Jersey to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Oct. 21. The justices unanimously denied Christie's request for a stay of the order and said his appeal had no "reasonable probability of success."
Christie decided his appeal likely had little chance of winning, a spokesman for the governor indicated. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner "left no ambiguity about the unanimous court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter," the spokesman said, according to The New York Times reported.
"Although the governor strongly disagrees with the court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law," a Christie spokesman said in a note to reporters, The Times reported.
Opponents of same-sex marriage expressed their disappointment with the court and Christie, who is considered a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
"The fact that the Supreme Court refused to stay the lower court's order is no reason not to litigate this important issue to a final conclusion on the merits," said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies with the Family Research Council.
"We are glad that Gov. Christie vetoed the legislature's attempt to redefine marriage, and that he was initially willing to defend the state's marriage law in court," Sprigg said in a written statement. "However, conservatives are looking for leaders who will sustain their commitment to unchanging principles."
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a written release, "There's no question that the courts of New Jersey are responsible for the imposition of same-sex marriage in that state, and we sharply criticize them for redefining our most important social institution with no regard to the wishes of voters or even elected officials. ... Still, we are extremely disappointed in . ... The mark of a leader is to walk a principled walk no matter the difficulty of the path. Chris Christie has failed the test, abandoning both voters and the core institution of society -- marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
Christie, who vetoed a same-sex marriage bill approved by the legislature last year, has continued to say he believes marriage to be between a man and a woman. He had said the issue should be decided by voters in a ballot initiative.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled Sept. 27 the state's refusal to recognize gay marriage violated the equal protection clause of the New Jersey constitution. She ordered the state government to begin permitting same-sex marriages Oct. 21. On Oct. 10, Jacobson refused a request to block enforcement of her order while the decision was being appealed.
On Oct. 11, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Christie's request that it consider Jacobson's ruling without an appeals court first considering it. The high court scheduled oral arguments in the appeal for early January. The Supreme Court did not rule on whether Jacobson's order would take effect Oct. 21, however, until Oct. 18.
New Jersey's legalization of gay marriage came as public officials in other states consider the same step. Among those developments:
-- The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Oct. 23 on whether judicial decisions legalizing same-sex marriage in two counties should be extended throughout the state.
-- Hawaii's legislature will begin a special session Oct. 28 called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to consider a bill to legalize gay marriage.
-- A federal judge in Michigan announced Oct. 16 the delay of a decision on the state's ban on same-sex marriage until a trial could be held beginning in late February.
The expanding legalization of gay marriage has resulted in the loss of freedom to exercise religious beliefs by citizens. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has endorsed new federal legislation to address an aspect of this growing problem. The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 3133, would prevent the federal government from denying tax exemption to, or withdrawing it from, individuals and institutions that define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
In addition to New Jersey, the other states in which same-sex marriage has been legalized are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont. Gay marriage also is legal in the District of Columbia.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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