Following Monday’s announcement that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped his challenge to a state Superior Court ruling approving same-sex marriage, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert officiated the wedding of a lesbian couple that had been waiting 30 years to be married and the University’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Center served wedding cake to over 60 students, faculty and staff members in celebration.
“I am glad that the governor changed his mind,” Lempert said, adding that she feels being able to officiate weddings is the best perk of her job as mayor. While Lempert said she usually officiates the marriages of young couples, many of the same-sex ceremonies she will officiate in the coming weeks for older couples who have been together for decades are “a different kind of special.”
“It’s exciting to be a part of a change that’s such a good thing and a reason for celebration,” Lempert said. “At the same time it does feel like we’re too late — or not too late, but like it shouldn’t have taken this long.”
The town of Princeton made application forms available in the health office immediately following the Superior Court’s Sept. 27 ruling that allowed same-sex marriages to proceed beginning Oct. 21, according to Lempert. Due to a 72-hour requirement, couples had to register by last Friday to be married as early as Monday.
Heather Howard, a Princeton councilwoman, said the registrar’s office stayed open two hours later than usual to accept applications, during which two couples picked up applications and many phone inquiries were received.
“From a local perspective, it just became important for us to be ready to react as soon as there was legal clarity to be able to provide marriage licenses,” Howard said in response to the news about marriage equality in the state.
According to Lempert, support for same-sex marriage seems almost universal, especially in Princeton. The Princeton Community Democratic Organization endorsed marriage equality in 2009. The town council unanimously approved an Oct. 14 resolution in support of same-sex marriage, encouraging lawmakers in Trenton to vote against Christie’s expected challenge to the court ruling.
Howard, who proposed the resolution, said she feels that while same-sex in the state is good progress, the development happened too slowly from the perspective of Princeton residents.
“We’re a progressive community, and we wanted to implement this as quickly as possible because these couples have been denied equal treatment for too long,” she said.
Princeton was in fact the first municipality in Mercer County to accept applications on Friday and perform weddings on Monday, making this “a proud moment” for Princeton, Howard said.
The news was received with celebration from the campus LGBT community as well. Debbie Bazarsky, the director of the LGBT Center on campus, has been updating the community with the latest developments over the last week via email.
While the LGBT Center has not been involved with advocacy for particular legislation, Bazarsky explained that its role is to be “a conduit of information” about developments in LGBT rights issues.
In an email sent last Friday, Bazarsky notified colleagues, alumni and students of the Friday deadline to file for marriage in order to be married Monday. On Monday, Bazarsky sent another email announcing Christie’s decision to drop his appeal of the court’s decision.
Bazarsky’s email invited recipients to join the LGBT Center in celebrating the fact that as married couples, people in same-sex unions will now be able to share the over 1,100 federal rights that were previously limited to heterosexual couples in New Jersey.
According to Howard, the state decision brings “a lot of good news from a civil rights perspective.”