Lambertville - Gay couples in a handful of New Jersey communities exchanged marriage vows in the early minutes of Monday morning, becoming the first to take advantage of a court ruling that forced the state to become the 14th in the United States to recognise same-sex nuptials.
The ceremonies joined couples that have been together for years, and in some cases decades, in hastily arranged ceremonies that remained in doubt until Friday afternoon when a unanimous state Supreme Court rejected Gov Chris Christie's administration's request to delay the implementation date of same-sex weddings ordered by a lower court last month.
In the gay-friendly community of Lambertville, Beth Asaro and Joanne Schailey smiled through a ceremony in the same crowded municipal courtroom where almost seven years ago they became one of the first couples in the state joined in a civil union.
"We remained optimistic and hopeful that we would be able to gather together to do the right thing, the just thing, and see our two friends get married," Mayor Dave DelVecchio, who led both the 2007 ceremony and Monday's, said before leading the couple of 27 years through their vows as their 13-year-old daughter served as the flower girl.
"We're floating on air," Asaro, in a salmon pink suit said afterward.
At Newark's City Hall, where seven gay couples and two heterosexual couples were wed, there was a brief disruption from a protester who cried out, "This is unlawful in the eyes of God and Jesus Christ," before Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat elected last week to the US Senate declared Gabriela Celeiro and Liz Salerno "lawful spouses". After the protester was removed, the mayor, choking up, paused, put his hand over his heart and said, "This is very beautiful".
Christie, the Republican governor, and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, asked the state's top court to overturn the lower-court ruling allowing gay marriage, and not to force the state to recognize same-sex marriage until the appeal was resolved.
The court agreed to hear the overall case in January but on Friday announced it would not delay the start of the marriages, in part because it said the state is not likely to prevail in its arguments next year. Christie said the state would comply with the ruling, though he also reaffirmed his position that whether to allow gay marriage should be decided by a popular vote, not a judge or even legislature.
A few minutes before midnight on Sunday in Jersey City, Mayor Steve Fulop gathered eight couples in the front of the city council chambers to conduct a swift mass ceremony.
"I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime," said Barbara Milton after she was married to Kay Osborn. "To have this moment of equality is overwhelming."
The couples married Monday can receive all the state and federal benefits of marriage, giving them benefits and protections including being allowed to file tax returns jointly.