The last two weeks have felt like June wedding season in the Garden State as dozens of gay and lesbian couples said their “I do’s” in city halls across New Jersey.
Same-sex couples were able to get married starting Monday, Oct. 21 after the New Jersey Supreme Court denied a request by Gov. Christopher Christie to delay a lower court ruling on the matter.
In September, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that marriages of same-sex couples must begin on Oct. 21. Her ruling was the first in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June.
After the state Supreme Court denied Christie’s request for a delay, the governor said he would drop all legal challenges to gay marriage in the Garden State.
Around the county
With the legal battle over, weddings began taking place throughout the state at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 21. Since then, dozens of gay and lesbian couples have wed across the Garden State, including here in Hudson County.
Among the first couples to marry were Hobokenites Peter Auperrle and Stewart Fishbein, who were married in Hoboken City Hall by Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
The couple, who have been together for 20 years, had previously had a civil union ceremony and a legal domestic partnership agreement. Prior to the push for marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions were the only legal options available to same sex couples who wanted to formalize their relationships.
Gov. Christie said that he will drop all legal appeals to same sex marriages in the Garden State.
“We’re all the same under the eyes of God. I believe they shouldn’t be treated like second rate citizens,” said Roque, a doctor who specializes in pain management. “The fact that they’ll get more civil rights out of this is good. This makes sense.”
Dennis Forsythe, a patient of Roque’s, added, “There are about 1,400 rights that go along with marriage that gay people have not been permitted to have.”
Forsythe lost his longtime partner in 2007 after he died of a heart attack. But, he said, the two did have a civil union ceremony.
Roque admits that Forsythe, whom he has known for many years, has done much to help educate him about the gay marriage issue.
Even Secaucus, arguably Hudson County’s most conservative town, has had a few same-sex weddings since the 21st, according to Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
“I did the first one I think [on Oct. 24] and I’m doing a huge one on [Oct 30th],” Gonnelli said, adding that other couples have since received their marriage licenses and have asked Gonnelli to perform their weddings. “I have five, maybe seven lined up…People [in Secaucus] have mixed emotions about this. But the people I’ve married I’ve known. My position is if two people love each other and two people are happy together that’s good enough for me.”
Two weeks ago, Phil Swibinski, a spokesman for North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, said, “North Bergen has not had any applications for same sex marriage licenses or ceremonies yet. Mayor Sacco has not made any official statements [on this issue]. But he is eager to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, just as he has performed civil unions in the past. We are ready to go as soon as we receive interest from a couple.”
When it became clear that Judge Jacobson’s decision was not going to be overturned by the New Jersey Supreme Court, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner contacted residents Alan George and Gary Stevens, who have been together for 27 years.
“They were the first civil union ceremony in Weehawken. I did their civil union ceremony in 2007,” said Turner. “We reached out to them and said, ‘Well, since you were the first civil union, would you like to be the first marriage?’”
Turner said the waterfront wedding took place on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. at Riva Pointe and was attended by about 30 guests, who included the couple’s family, friends, and neighbors. Several town officials were also in attendance.
“It was exciting. Everybody who was there felt it was historic,” Turner added. “And many of the people there felt it was not only historic but long overdue.”
The Weehawken mayor was scheduled to perform three more same-sex weddings before the end of that week.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.