[Episcopal News Service] Same-sex couples in the state of New Jersey began getting married shortly after midnight Oct. 21 after the state’s Supreme Court refused to postponed enactment of a lower court’s ruling.
Diocese of Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith said on Oct. 18 shortly after the state Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex weddings that he gave thanks for that action. He said he knew that many diocesan priests were preparing to officiate at those weddings.
Beckwith allowed Newark clergy to bless civil unions starting in February 2007 after New Jersey enacted a civil union law. His Oct. 18 statement listed his expectations for clergy who officiate at marriages.
In the Diocese of New Jersey, clergy were being sent a pastoral letter Oct. 21 from Bishop George Councell, who is due to retire Nov. 2, and Bishop-elect William H. Stokes, who will be ordained and consecrated that day, outlining guidelines for clergy who are asked to perform same-sex marriages.
“We are entering a new era in society and in the life of the Church,” said Councell and Stokes in the letter. “We have both publicly stated our clear support of this right for same-sex couples and rejoice at the court’s decision. Many same-sex couples have longed to have their relationships afforded the same civil rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. It is also true that many same-sex couples long to be married in the Church and to have the sacramental nature of their relationship acknowledged and blessed by, and within, the Church.”
Councell and Stokes asked the clergy to have “generous hearts” and to “honor and respect” for those who disagree with the court’s decisions and with the bishops’ decision to permit same-sex marriages in diocesan churches.
On Sept. 26, Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County ruled that if the state failed to allow same-sex marriage, it would deprive state residents of rights guaranteed them in June by the U.S. Supreme Court. She ordered the state to begin to allow same-sex marriage on Oct. 21.
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom many consider a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, said he would appeal the ruling and asked the state Supreme Court to stay Jacobson’s ruling. He had said he wanted the issue put to state voters in a referendum. In February 2012, he vetoed a same-sex marriage bill passed by the state Legislature.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. Thirty states ban such marriages and five allow civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships. More information is here. Only New Mexico has not enacted legislation allowing or banning marriage or other legal status. That state’s Supreme Court is due to consider the issue at a hearing Oct. 23.
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.