TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gay rights advocates are glad to see the New Jersey state Supreme Court is taking up the question of same-sex marriage, partly because they think it could increase pressure on lawmakers to legalize it first.
Udi Ofer, the New Jersey director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the court's decision Friday to take up the case "makes it even more pressing for the Legislature to act immediately to make marriage equality the law."
The state's top court agreed to hear Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration's appeal of a lower-court ruling from last month that declared the state must make gay marriage legal in the state effective Oct. 21.
The high court also said it will decide whether wedding licenses can be issued to same-sex couples while the appeal is considered. That decision is expected within the next week or so.
Gay marriage has been an issue in New Jersey's courts and Legislature for more than a decade, and the issue appears to be headed for a showdown in both venues during the next three months.
On both fronts, Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, is the chief adversary of gay rights groups.
Christie, who favors the civil unions the state now allows but says marriage laws should be changed only with a popular vote, is having the state's lawyers appeal Judge Mary Jacobson's ruling from last month.
The state's top court says oral arguments in the case will be held Jan. 6 or 7. Gay rights advocates were hoping that Christie would stop contesting the ruling. But since he is, they are glad the state's top court granted the administration's request to hear the appeal directly without waiting for a decision first from an intermediate appeals court.
Christie also vetoed a law last year that would have legalized same-sex nuptials. Gay rights groups have been pushing lawmakers to override the veto.
The deadline to have a vote in Jan. 14, just after the court hears its arguments.
Currently, 13 states, including most in the Northeast, recognize same-sex marriage. Since 2007, New Jersey has granted gay couples civil unions.
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