TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The state's highest court on Friday agreed to hear a case on whether gay marriage should be legal and whether same-sex marriage licenses can be issued while it decides.
The issue, battled in New Jersey's courts and Legislature for more than a decade, has taken on new urgency on both fronts with the opponents the same — Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, and the state's gay rights advocates.
The Supreme Court's decision to take up the case was the one thing both sides wanted.
Christie's administration asked the court to take the case without first going through an appeals court. In a brief filed Friday, it argued that the issue is too important to be decided by just one judge.
And gay rights advocates say the state Supreme Court made the right call in taking up the case.
"It certainly shows that they understand the public importance and that makes all the sense in the world," said Hayley Gorenberg, a Lambda Legal lawyer representing Garden State Equality and a group of couples who asked a judge in July to order the state to grant same-sex marriages.
The judge, Mary Jacobson, agreed with the advocates in a ruling last month, finding that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June makes it necessary for the state to grant same-sex marriages starting Oct. 21. The state wants that delayed until the appeals are fully resolved.
The court is expected to rule before Oct. 21 on the question of issuing licenses and is scheduled to hear the full case on Jan. 6 or 7.
That's just before the deadline for lawmakers to override Christie's 2012 veto of a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage in the state. Advocates are pushing lawmakers hard for an override.