[Updated, 9:12 p.m. Oct. 20: At 12:01 a.m. Monday, Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey said “I do” in the place that matters most to them.]
They’ve been together 27 years, since Asaro asked Schailey out for a movie and Chinese food. In 2007, they became the first New Jersey couple to be joined in a civil union. When neighboring New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, they formally wed there. But that wasn’t New Jersey, which they’ve called home for 16 years.
This time, “it really means everything,” Asaro, of Lambertville, told The Times as she prepared for her post-midnight nuptials. “What’s really going through our mind is to not faint. It’s so huge.”
After the clock strikes midnight, city halls will begin performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. New Jersey became the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriage after the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s order calling for marriages to begin Oct. 21. The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, called Monday “the day that New Jerseyans have been waiting for for decades,” but he cautioned that the legality is not set in stone.
Last year, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, saying he wants the issue put to a vote of the people. Stevenson’s organization is pushing to build enough support in the Legislature to pass another gay-marriage bill and override any future veto.
The state Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage per se, but it has said that the state failed to show it was likely to prevail. Last Friday’s ruling says marriages can be performed for same-sex couples while the case proceeds. Oral arguments before the state high court are scheduled for January.
But advocates are encouraged by the opinion, written by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.
“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 opinion said. “The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.”
Although Christie has repeatedly said he opposes same-sex marriage, he will abide by the court ruling, his press secretary said in a statement.
“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,” Michael Drewniak’s statement said.
The ruling came as good news to Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio, who works closely with Asaro, a member of the City Council.
“It’s really giving them full citizenship,” DelVecchio said. “Everything in life will be easier. They’ll have the same rights that we have.”
DelVecchio said seven couples in Lambertville applied for marriage licenses Saturday, and he expected more to complete the paperwork Sunday night. But only Asaro and Schailey could be legally married Monday, since other couples face the state’s mandatory 72-hour waiting period between applying for a marriage license and having a marriage ceremony.
The waiting period was a source of consternation to many.
On Friday, Jersey City officials filed a brief requesting a waiver of the 72-hour waiting period. “This is a civil rights issue and we are seeking legal action on behalf of our constituents whose rights currently are being infringed by the state administration with their delay tactics,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement.
Garden State Equality’s Stevenson said a judge in Essex County had issued waivers for same-sex couples in Newark and Asbury Park.
Hours before her nuptials, Asaro said her sister-in-law had just finished applying her makeup, and she was getting ready to slip into her Jackie O.-style pink sleeveless dress from Neiman Marcus.
A honeymoon will have to wait until the spring, Asaro said.
Last fall, Superstorm Sandy wrecked their South Seaside Park vacation home just a month after they bought it. They hope the repairs will be finished by March.
“We’ll go down there and finally enjoy it,” Asaro said, “for the first time.”