But by midday, just hours after Gov. Chris Christie dropped his fight against gay marriage, confusion and frustration set in for some who found that an already decades-long wait would have to continue at least for a few more days.
“We thought we were going to have this story of
elation and what we’re hearing is frustration,” Green said.
Under state law, marriage
applications – for any couple – are subject to a 72-hour waiting period, which
can be waived by a judge on a case-by-case basis, typically for emergency
Some judges in Essex and Hudson counties did issue waivers over the weekend, leading to false expectations for many couples that vows could be exchanged immediately.
Bergen was not among the counties where judges waived the waiting period, and municipalities were unable to accept marriage applications until Monday morning, according to Heather Mailander, Ridgewood’s municipal clerk.
While the waiting period is nothing new, the celebratory images of midnight ceremonies in Newark and elsewhere ramped up expectations that no obstacles remained for same-sex couples in the state.
“There was information out there that led people to believe they wouldn’t have to wait,” Green said.
That was the understanding of
Teri Noel, who planned to marry Sophie Papanikolaou, her partner of 34 years,
at the Unitarian Society on Monday at noon.
But after a trip to a judge in Hackensack, the Fair Lawn residents had to call family members and hold off on nuptials until the weekend.
“To [the judge], it’s not such a big deal. But to us, it’s a big deal,” Noel said. “We’ve had a lot of carrots dangled and a lot of promises made, and we just want to take the opportunity.”
“It kind of takes the romance out of it,” she added.
According to Green, another couple in the congregation was able to have a New Jersey wedding Monday evening, but they had already been married in Connecticut, where gay marriage was legalized in 2008. And until the hour of the ceremony arrived, uncertainty lingered about whether paperwork could be filed in time.
Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Garden State Equality, the largest same-sex marriage advocate in New Jersey, said preparations should have begun immediately following the ruling by a Mercer County Superior Court judge last month that the state’s marriage laws unconstitutionally denied federal benefits to gay couples.
“The state should have started issuing guidance over a month ago,” he said. “They failed to do that.”
Garden State Equality scrambled this weekend, he said, to find judges willing to grant waivers so that some ceremonies could take place. But only a small percentage of couples were able to take part in the first wave of marriages, he said, and it was a challenge for many that did.
“People were driving miles and miles to get judges to sign these waivers,” Stevenson said.
He said that Garden State Equality is continuing to work with other organizations, like the ACLU, to find ways around the wait.
In an email obtained by The Star-Legder, sent to municipalities last week by State Registrar Vincent Arrisi, the official responsible for overseeing the municipal health departments that process most marriage applications, Arrisi indicated that the state had been awaiting the fate of a petition by Christie to stall same-sex marriages.
“We are still awaiting legal direction on it and when we can start taking applications,” the email to municipal officials read. “At this point, you cannot take applications for same-sex marriages until you hear from this office that we have the authority to do so.”
The Christie administration’s request was denied by the state’s highest court Friday.
And while the marriage ruling is now expected to move forward without any additional legal challenges, the final roadblock dampened the mood for the two high school sweethearts left waiting at the altar in Ridgewood, who said they don’t need the extra time to think through their decision.
“We’ve been together 34 years,” Papanikolaou said. “We’ve kind of thought about it.”