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Christie withdraws same-sex marriage challenge, as NJ recognizes unions

 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday withdrew his challenge to legalized same-sex marriage in the state, after a court determined that the appeal is not likely to prevail. 

The decision by Christie came as, in response to the court move, the state on Monday began to recognize same-sex marriages. Christie's administration formally withdrew the appeal in a letter to the state Supreme Court. 

"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," the governor's office said in a statement. "The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court."

Earlier in the day, gay couples exchanged vows in early morning ceremonies in several New Jersey communities as the state became the 14th state to recognize them.

The hastily planned first weddings to legally unite long-time couples were planned for a state Senator's grand home in Elizabeth, the boardwalk in Asbury Park and government buildings in small towns and big cities.

In the arts community of Lambertville, Mayor David DelVecchio led the ceremony to marry Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey. He also presided when they joined in a civil union the minute they became recognized in the state in February 2007.

Soon after they cut the cake, DelVecchio handed Asaro a pink marriage license. "We're floating on air," she said. Added Schailey, "It's like winning the Super Bowl."

The couple, both wearing suits, hosted a reception attended by friends, family and several politicians. The song "In the Mood" played.

Asaro, a member of the city council in Lambertville, said they wanted to get married at the first moment, in part, to promote the gay-friendliness of their community north of Trenton.

"This shows to the world that Lambertville is open for business,"  DelVecchio said.

In Newark, Mayor Cory Booker was marrying the first of several couples when someone attempted to disrupt the ceremony.

Booker had asked if anyone had reason to object to the marriage and a protester screamed "This is unlawful in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ."

Booker, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last week, called for the person to be removed and police dragged him out.

As Booker continued speaking, "...not hearing any substantive and worthy objections," thunderous applause erupted.

The weddings came amid a flurry of legal activity after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal government should recognize gay marriages and confer couples with the same benefits that it does for heterosexual married couples, including joint tax filings, the right to live together in government-funded nursing homes and Social Security survivor benefits.

A state judge last month agreed with advocates who said that by allowing civil unions but not marriage, New Jersey was keeping gay couples in the state from legal equality.

The administration of Christie, a Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate, had appealed both the ruling and Monday's implementation date to the state Supreme Court.

And on Friday, less than 60 hours before the weddings were to begin, the state's top court refused to delay them while it sorts out the overall case. The court said the state is not likely to prevail.

Many of the people who have long fought for the right for gay couples to marry had been bracing for a delay, even while they were optimistic the state's top court would ultimately force New Jersey to recognize same-sex marriage.

For the first couples to tie the knot legally, it's been a weekend of fast wedding planning and confusion.

Some towns began taking applications for same-sex marriage licenses on Thursday and continued even after the state government told them not to until there was clarity from the courts.

Other towns refused to grant licenses even after the state Health Department said Friday evening that towns should accept the applications.

It's expected that a rush of weddings will continue in coming days as couples are able to get licenses. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.