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Confusion abounds over N.J. gay marriages

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

TRENTON, N.J. — With the advent of same-sex marriage in New Jersey, couples are thrilled and, in many cases, confused about how to proceed.

Advocates and others are claiming that the state of New Jersey did not give ample instructions to town clerks and others on how to administer marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriages were scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The New Jersey Supreme Court last week refused to delay a lower court order for the state to start recognizing marriages. The case, however, is still on appeal.

Several couples planned to marry minutes after the state began recognizing the unions. Yet other said they had not been able to get a license. New Jersey law requires that couples wait three days between obtaining a license and getting married.

“There's a lot of mass confusion, and it boils down to the fact that the state should have issued guidance a week ago,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality.

Stevenson said he has 15 volunteer lawyers who are scrambling to find judges who are willing to waive the three-day requirement for couples.

“We're hoping to make miracles happen, but I wish we didn't have to,” he said.

Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought same-sex marriage to the state, said they have not been able to get a license to wed.

The couple said the clerk in their hometown of Aberdeen told them Friday that she could not issue them a marriage license without further instruction from the state.

Gov. Chris Christie had instructed the Department of Health to cooperate with municipalities to issue licenses. The clerk did not immediately return a call to comment Sunday. A Christie spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.

“It's just very frustrating after being made to wait for so many years. The state had an order from a judge. It's clear they did nothing to prepare and to communicate,” Karen Nicholson-McFadden said. “It's terrible. It sucks some of the joy out of Friday,” when the court made its ruling.

The couple plans to try again for a license Monday and get married as soon as they can. They've been together for 24 years and have two children.

“We will do it as soon as we can because we've waited for so long. You don't want to tempt fate,” Karen Nicholson-McFadden said. “You want to make sure the moment you can you have every one of these benefits and protections and then we go into party planning mode.”

Two other plaintiffs, Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro, planned to seal their 24-year union with a midnight wedding at the home of state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a sponsor of the vetoed gay marriage law. Another state lawmaker who's been a longtime advocate for same-sex marriage, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, is to walk the couple down the aisle.

Little seems to have changed since the court's decision Friday. On the New Jersey Department of Health's website under “How to Apply for a Marriage License,” requirements include “Be of the opposite sex.”

Mayors in cities and towns including Newark, Jersey City, Asbury Park and Lambertville plan to open City Hall late Sunday and marry couples as soon as possible.

But confusion reigned Friday when applying for licenses, and Stevenson said he expects to see far more weddings in the coming week.

“If they could, hundreds and hundreds of couples would get married tonight,” Stevenson said Sunday. “But with this waiting period, it's not going to be as many as they hoped.”

There is now also a push in the state legislature to gather enough votes to override Christie's veto of a same-sex marriage bill. Christie does not support same-sex marriage and has said he wants to put the issue on the ballot.

Democratic Sen. Ray Lesniak said even though the Supreme Court's decision was unanimous and strongly worded, there is a chance it could be overturned. By codifying same-sex marriage into law, it would add another layer of protection.

“There's also a limbo period now,” he said. “Yes, it's easy for us to say a strongly worded unanimous decision by the supreme court on this day leaves little chance that this decision will be overturned, but by an override we will eliminate any change.”

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