Mayors officiate as New Jersey legalizes gay marriage

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Wedding bells rang for the first time for same-sex couples in New Jersey just after midnight on Monday when the state became the 14th in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat due to leave office this month after his election to the U.S. Senate last week, opened City Hall at midnight to perform some of the first ceremonies. Mayors in Lambertville, Red Bank and Jersey City did likewise.

The marriages took place after New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled on Friday against a request by Republican Governor Chris Christie to freeze a lower court ruling in favor of gay marriage until the top court could hear the state's appeal in January and issue a final decision.

Moments after the state's highest court denied Christie's request, New Jersey municipalities began accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples.

In Newark, nine couples, both gay and straight, took their vows in the City Hall rotunda in a ceremony officiated by Booker, who said his tenure was ending on a high note.

"Tonight we have crossed a barrier," Booker told the newly-weds and their families and friends. "While you all have fallen into love, the truth is the state of New Jersey has risen to love."

Jenelle Torres, 42, and her long-time partner, Lydia Torres, 44, were among the first to marry. They had previously obtained a license in New York but were eager to wed in their home state.

"It's monumental. I'm so thankful and humbled," said Torres. "I'm just so proud to be a part of this. A part of history," she said.

The ceremonies in Newark went off mostly without a hitch, though one man was ejected after yelling out that gay marriages were "unlawful in the sight of God."

For other same sex couples planning to marry this week, the new marriage law fulfilled both personal and political aspirations.

"This has been a long time coming," said Hoboken resident Allen Kratz, who plans to marry his partner of 28 years, Paul Somerville, at a private ceremony on Thursday.

The couple was legally wed in Oregon in 2004, but the Oregon Supreme Court nullified gay marriage a year later.

"We are very excited that now, finally, we get to marry," Kratz said. "I know some political leaders think it's too soon. But civil rights always come too soon for those in a position of power and never soon enough for those who have been denied life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Under state law, those seeking to marry in New Jersey must apply for a marriage license and then wait at least 72 hours.

The waiting period does not apply to couples who have been legally wed in the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that already recognize same-sex marriage.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere, Editing by Noreen O'Donnelland John Stonestreet)

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