TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Same-sex marriages will begin within days in New Jersey after the state's highest court ruled unanimously Friday to uphold a lower-court order that gay weddings must start Monday and to deny a delay that was sought by Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
"The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today,'' the court ruled. "The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.''
WEB EXTRA: Read The Supreme Court Opinion (pdf)
A judge on the lower court had ruled last month that New Jersey must recognize same-sex marriage and set Monday as the date to allow gay weddings. Christie, a Republican who is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, appealed the decision and asked for the start date to be put on hold while the state Supreme Court decides the case.
N.J. Supreme Court Allows Gay Marriages To Begin Monday As Appeals Process Continues
But on Friday afternoon, Christie said he wouldn't get in the way of this latest court decision.
"The Supreme Court has made its determination. While the governor firmly believes that this determination should be made by all the people of the State of New Jersey, he has instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with all municipalities in effectuating the order of the Superior Court under the applicable law," Gov. Christie's spokesman said in a statement.
His administration also asked that the state's top court take up the appeal of the lower-court ruling, something it agreed to do last week. Oral arguments are expected Jan. 6 or 7.
Towns In New Jersey Prepare For Same-Sex Weddings
On Friday afternoon, Newark Mayor and Senator-elect Cory Booker announced via Twitter that he would officiate at a wedding next week now that gay marriage is legal.
The city clerk in Jersey City was taking marriage applications from everyone Friday afternoon, so any gay couple with a license by the end of the day will be able to legally marry on Monday.
"It's a great thing not only for Jersey City, not only for New Jersey, but it should be something nationally. In Jersey City specifically, we have the largest LGBT community in the state and we're proud to have that and we're looking forward to being at the forefront of marriage equality," Mayor Steven Fulop said following the ruling.
Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro of South Brunswick have been in a relationship for 24 years and said they plan to marry at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning, the moment gay marriage becomes legal in the state.
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In the meantime, the state government will have to allow weddings and work quickly through some logistical issues: Does the Monday deadline apply to when marriage licenses must be issued, or when ceremonies can take place, for instance? Normally, there's a three-day waiting period in New Jersey between getting a license and tying the knot.
And are gay and lesbian couples that have wed legally elsewhere automatically considered married in New Jersey, or do they have to fill out forms and pay fees, too?
A state lawmaker had asked the state Attorney General's Office Thursday whether the normal 72-hour waiting period would apply for same-sex couples seeking to get married Monday if no stay was granted. Several New Jersey towns had begun accepting marriage license applications from same-sex couples in case the court didn't block the weddings from starting Monday.
After those topics are decided, another big hypothetical question looms: What happens to the status of same-sex marriages entered into now if the court decides next year that the state does not have to grant marriage to gay couples?
Despite the uncertainty, couples -- some of whom have been together for decades -- have been planning to have ceremonies as soon as they would be recognized by the state government. Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio said he's planning to lead the state's first legally recognized same-sex wedding, between Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey. DelVecchio also performed the ceremony in 2007 when the couple became among New Jersey's first to be granted a civil union.
Towns In New Jersey Prepare For Same-Sex Weddings
Earlier Friday, several New Jersey towns began accepting applications for marriage licenses so gay couples could tie the knot starting Monday.
Garden State Equality Executive Director Troy Stevenson said the applications were being accepted by Friday, or were expected to be soon, in communities including Newark, Asbury Park, Lambertville, Lodi and Red Bank.
Stevenson said that judges will be available around the state starting late Sunday night to waive the customary 72-hour waiting period for marriage licenses in what could be a rush for same-sex couples to get married as soon as it's legal.
Whether gay couples should have the right to marry in New Jersey has been the subject of a battle in the state's courts and Legislature over the past decade. There has been a flurry of movements in both venues since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated key parts of a federal law that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.
Since then, gay rights advocates have asked New Jersey judges to force the state to recognize same-sex marriage, arguing that the state's current policy of granting gay couples civil unions but not marriage licenses amounts to denying those couples federal protections such as Social Security survivor benefits and the right to file tax returns jointly.
Since July, gay rights groups have also engaged in an intense campaign aimed at persuading lawmakers to override Christie's 2012 veto of a bill that would have allowed gay marriage. To get an override, the Legislature must act by Jan. 14.
The preparations came in response to a judge's decision last month that the state must recognize same-sex marriage starting Monday.
Many couple across the state are planning to marry at the stroke of midnight, including Jersey City residents David Gibson and Rich Kiamco.
"Just to get the piece of paper that says New Jersey marriage license would give us a strategic lever because they could appeal all the way to supreme court," Kiamco said.
Amy Quinn, a member of the city council in Asbury Park, said she and her wife, Heather Jensen, applied at 8 a.m. Friday for a marriage license in Asbury Park.
The couple has already been joined in a New Jersey domestic partnership and was married in New York in June. Quinn said they want to have a marriage in New Jersey as a symbol.
"Being married in my home state, where I live, is important,'' she said.
She said the couple is planning to join several others from Asbury Park in a ceremony conducted by a clergy member at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
Christie favors civil unions, which the state has offered since 2007, but opposes gay marriage.
"I believe that the institution of marriage for 2,000 years has been between a man and a woman and if we're going to change that core definition of marriage, I don't think that should be decided by 121 politicians in Trenton," Christie said.
He said it should be allowed only by a vote of the people, CBS 2's Tracee Carrasco reported.
"If in fact, at the end of day, the people of New Jersey were given the opportunity to vote and voted differently, I would support that law," Christie said.
Oral arguments on the broader case are planned for January.
In court filings, the state said it would be harmed if couples could get married before a final decision is rendered.
Gay rights groups argue that same-sex couples would be the ones harmed by a delay now that the federal government is providing benefits including Social Security death benefits and joint tax filing to married gay couples.
"Some people might say, 'What's another three or four months?''' Stevenson said. "These couples are saying it's an eternity, especially the ones with an ill partner.''
In a separate push, gay rights groups are trying to persuade lawmakers to override Christie's 2012 veto of a bill to recognize gay marriage.
The deadline for an override is Jan. 14, but a vote is not expected until sometime after the Nov. 5 elections.
Thirteen states, including most in the Northeast, now recognize gay marriage.
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