The New Jersey Supreme Court on Friday said gay marriages can begin taking place starting Monday, brushing aside a request from Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration for a delay as it appeals.
"We conclude that the State has not made the necessary showing to prevail ... and that the public interest does not favor a stay," the judges wrote. "We therefore deny the State's motion for a stay."
The court ruled that the state has "not shown a reasonable probability it will succeed on the merits," which will be argued in January.
Christie's administration is appealing a lower-court ruling from last month that legalized gay marriage, but his press secretary Michael Drewniak said in a statement Friday the governor will comply with the ruling.
"The Supreme Court has made its determination," Drewniak said. "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."
Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, personally favors civil unions but remains opposed to gay marriage. He has said he would prefer the issue be put on the ballot rather than decided by the courts.
Gay rights activists involved in the case rejoiced at Friday's ruling.
"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 of Garden State Equality. "Gov. Christie, not even you have the power to resurrect that wall. 2016 may compel you to try, but the tide of history won’t let you succeed. It’s time to stop the charade of opposing the inevitable."
Opponents, meanwhile, said it showed how judicial activism could distort the political process.
“It is extremely disappointing that the New Jersey Supreme Court has allowed the ruling of an activist judge to stand pending its appeal through the court system," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, in a statement. "The definition of marriage is something that should be decided by the people of New Jersey themselves, not by any judge or court."
Brown noted that the idea of allowing marriage licenses to be issued while the case is still pending is "unfair both to the voters of the state and to same-sex couples themselves. If the state Supreme Court were to uphold marriage as they should do, then the validity of the ‘marriages’ that will be performed starting next week will be called into question."
The court scheduled oral arguments for early January.
Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of New Jersey, said the best solution would be for the state legislature to legalize same-sex marriage by the end of the year. Gay marriage advocates need to pick up three votes in the state Senate and 12 in the state Assembly to override Christie's veto by January; in recent weeks, six assembly members, four Republicans and two Democrats, have announced they will now support same-sex marriage.
"This brings us another step closer in the legal battle to win marriage equality, but the fight is far from over," Ofer said. "The momentum is on our side, and this decision will only bolster the confidence of pro-marriage lawmakers that they are on the right side of history."
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said "it’s a little hard to know how [Friday's ruling] will cut" in terms of the legislative vote, since lawmakers could said the court is poised to resolve the matter next year anyway.
But Sprigg questioned the reasoning behind the decision to allow marriages to take place, saying, "It strains credulity to saw it will work irreparable harm to maintain the status quo definition of marriage for just a few months longer until final adjudication of the issues."