The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the state must begin granting same-sex marriage licenses on Monday, a rebuff to Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie, a Republican, favors civil unions, which New Jersey has offered since 2007, but opposes gay marriage. The state had tried to delay the granting of gay marriage licenses pending an appeal of a ruling last month that found the state must allow same-sex couples to marry, saying that not doing so deprives them of rights that were guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.
Christie had asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to freeze a state judge's ruling legalizing gay marriage until it heard the case in January and made a final decision, but the court, in a unanimous ruling, found that the state had "not shown a reasonable probability it will succeed on the merits."
New Jersey will become the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriage, in addition to the District of Columbia.
"The long wait in New Jersey is finally over — the door is open for love, commitment and equality under the law! This is a huge victory for New Jersey's same-sex couples and their families," said Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director of Lambda Legal, which filed a brief on behalf of six same-sex couples who sought the right to marry, in a statement.
Judge Mary Jacobson in Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton ruled on Sept. 27 in favor of gay couples who had challenged the New Jersey's civil union law, saying it restricted federal benefits that are given to heterosexual married couples. Jacobson ordered New Jersey to begin granting marriage licenses to gay couples on Oct. 21.
Christie's office, in urging the state Supreme Court to put a stop to that order and wait until it could consider the issue of whether the state's ban is unconstitutional, said at the time, "Governor Christie has always maintained that he would abide by the will of the voters on the issue of marriage equality and called for it to be on the ballot this Election Day. Since the legislature refused to allow the people to decide expeditiously, we will let the Supreme Court make this constitutional determination."
With its unanimous ruling among all seven judges, the state Supreme Court hinted Friday that when it looks at whether the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional in January, it will rule against Christie's administration and strike the ban down.
"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 court ruled. "The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative."
A few New Jersey towns had already started accepting applications for marriage licenses in anticipation of the ruling, NBC New York reported.
The New Jersey Supreme Court first ruled in 2006 that same-sex couples were entitled to all the rights and benefits that heterosexual couples get, which led to the state legislature creating civil unions in 2007.
The six same-sex couples who challenged the civil union law earlier this year argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act changed federal and state laws when the high court said the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages in the states where they are legal.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report