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Christie drops challenge to same-sex marriages

(CNN) — New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie is dropping a legal challenge to a court ruling abolishing the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

“Although the Governor strongly disagrees with the Court substituting its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people, the Court has now spoken clearly as to their view of the New Jersey Constitution and, therefore, same-sex marriage is the law,” Christie’s office said Monday morning in a statement.

“The Governor will do his constitutional duty and ensure his Administration enforces the law as dictated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.”

Friday, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to temporarily block a lower court ruling knocking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The state’s highest court had been scheduled to hear further arguments in January. With that case dropped, same-sex weddings in New Jersey became legal starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Christie has long said he opposes weddings for gay and lesbian couples. In his first reelection debate earlier this month, he called for a state referendum to decide the issue, although the governor said he would accept legalized same-sex marriages were a majority of Garden State voters to approve it.

In the second debate against state Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic challenger, Christie said that if his children came out as gay, he would still love them but his views on same-sex marriage would remain unchanged.

In a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month, New Jerseyans said they preferred Christie drop the challenge by a nearly two-to-one margin. A slight plurality of Republican voters said Christie should continue to pursue the challenge, 49% to 42%.

Christie’s decision to drop the legal challenge comes two weeks before he will face Buono at the ballots. Favored to win reelection by double digit margins in public opinion polls, Christie has worked hard to present himself as a political moderate in a blue-state race widely considered to be a test-run for a possible 2016 presidential bid.

Gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey started getting married 12:01 a.m. Monday, the moment the lower court’s ruling went into effect.

The decision was based in large part on the summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited discrimination against same-sex couples. In her decision, the New Jersey judge argued that the state’s continuing allowance only of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples was discriminatory.

Among those granting the early-morning marriages was Democratic Senator-elect Cory Booker, the Newark, New Jersey mayor who overwhelmingly won his bid last week to fill out the remainder of the term of the late Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in June.

New Jersey’s Assembly Speaker, Democrat Sheila Oliver, who had urged Christie to drop his fight, praised the governor’s decision in a statement Monday.

“This will long be remembered as a great day for equality in New Jersey,” Oliver said.

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