Monday, October 21, 2013

UPDATED: Christie drops appeal, Marriage Equality in NJ is here to stay!


On Monday, October 21st, just hours after the first couples began receiving their marriage licenses, the Christie Administration dropped its appeal of a lower court ruling that brought marriage equality to the state.  The Supreme Court will no longer review the case in January as described below, and marriages may continue.

On Friday, October 18th, the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey voted unanimously to deny the Christie administration a stay of a Sept. 27 lower court ruling  legalizing marriage equality, while an appeal of that case proceeds.  Same-gender couples in the state may wed as soon as Monday, and are already completing the applications in many municipalities to pass the 72-hour waiting period before the law goes into effect. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the appeal in January.

"On Monday, New Jersey will begin to tear down its Berlin Wall separating straight people who have had total freedom, and LGBT people who have not," said Steven Goldstein,  the founder and former Director of Garden State Equality, a plaintiff in the case along with six New Jersey families.  "Imagine the happiness you’d feel if you won the Super Bowl, the Nobel Prize and an Academy Award all in a single moment, and multiply it by a million. That’s how we LGBT New Jerseyans feel right now.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s action today is more than about us longtime couples in love. This is also a triumph for LGBT youth and our hope they’ll get to live in a kinder world than we did. We seek a world that will tell every child, whether LGBT or not: You are normal, and so are your dreams."

Response from the Diocese of Newark

Episcopalians have also been preparing for this day for a long time.  The Right Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, issued a statement to Friday night to his flock, which makes up the northern third of the state. "I rejoice that state law now provides the opportunity for all couples to receive the full benefits of marriage. I join my prayers of thanksgiving with those many couples who are – at this moment, applying for marriage licenses. Many of our diocesan clergy are preparing to officiate at celebrations. I have been in conversation with one priest whose congregation is planning a group wedding ceremony – and how I as bishop might participate."  He went on to outline his expectations for how clergy and parishes will proceed, using the blessing rite adopted by the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.  The rite is still distinct from a marriage in the eyes of the church, but clergy who choose to can act as an agent of the state, which considers the couple married under the law.  The June Supreme Court ruling means that the Federal government also recognizes the marriage, with all the rights and responsibilities that go with it.

Clergy are expected to come to an agreement with parish leaders about holding such services.  Approximately half of the 100 congregations in the diocese have endorsed the work of The OASIS, the diocesan LGBT ministry which was authorized by the Right Rev. John Shelby Spong in 1989.

"We are finally be able to say to our gay and lesbian members, 'The State of New Jersey has finally caught up with Redeemer,'" said the Rev. Cynthia Black, rector of Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, an Integrity Proud Parish Partner which has been blessing same-gender relationships since 1991. "For the past 22 years, this church has publicly affirmed that all committed and loving couples are equal in the eyes of God."

Members of Redeemer have been preparing for this day.  One parishioner, Colleen Hintz, creates vestments, and designed a special set to be used at the services.  "My sister is a lesbian—I never thought I would live to see the day that she would be able to get married to her beloved Sarah," she said, holding back tears. Hintz’ sister and her partner live in Texas, a state that has yet to approve marriage equality.  Another, Carol King, composes hymns.  She has been working to choose or write appropriate music for the services. "This is a simple matter of justice for me," she said, "Justice has been denied for far too long."

Response from the Diocese of New Jersey

The Diocese  of New Jersey, with its cathedral at Trenton, recently elected the  Rev. Canon William H. "Chip" Stokes as its new bishop; he will succeed the Right Rev. George Councell in November.  The two leaders issued a joint statement after the lower court ruling, stating, "(We) applaud Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson's ruling that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. Our hope and prayer is that Judge Jacobson's court order will be honored, and that same-sex couples may be married beginning October 21."

The Diocese of Jersey also endorsed the official blessing rite adopted at General Convention, and Bishop Councell has given his clergy permission to officiate at these services if they choose to, a position we are hopeful Stokes will uphold.  An official list of welcoming congregations is maintained by The OASIS, the diocese's LGBT ministry.

Christian Paolino is Chair of the Stakeholders' Council of Integrity and Diocesan Organizer for Newark

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