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NJ same-sex couples rush to altar, but no bliss yet for some

Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Cindy Meneghin, right, and her partner, Maureen Kilian, hug after a marriage equality rally in Montclair, N.J., on Oct. 18, 2013.

Despite the green light to start same-sex marriages in the first minutes of Monday, some New Jersey couples may have to wait several days before they can officially tie the knot -- and other marriages apparently are being stifled by government authorities who aren’t sure how to proceed.

On Friday, the state Supreme Court refused to delay a lower court order for the state to begin recognizing same-sex marriages.

That decision set up New Jersey to become the 14th state to legally recognize same-sex marriage. It also set off couples throughout the state into a frantic scramble.

Gov. Chris Christie said that he instructed the state’s Department of Health to cooperate with municipalities to issue licenses.

Still, according to New Jersey law, couples who apply for a marriage license must wait 72 hours before the license is issued – an order that could hinder same-sex couples who hoped to marry at 12:01 a.m.

In another twist early Sunday, two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that brought same-sex marriage to the state, Karen and Marcye Nicholson-McFadden, said that they tried to apply for a marriage license in Aberdeen, but the town clerk there told the couple on Friday that she couldn’t issue them a license without further instruction from the state.

Yet as some same-sex couples struggle to receive a marriage license, others have faced little hindrance in their efforts to marry their partners.

Beth Asaro planned to marry Joanne Schailey, her partner of 27 years, just after midnight. Asaro told NBC News the pair has scurried to get ready since the court's ruling came down.

"We ran around, ordered flowers, just getting everyone together," said Asaro, an AT&T product marketing manager.

Due to the late hour of their wedding, Asaro and Schailey would host a reception and celebration Sunday night before the wedding and then participate in the ceremony as the clock struck midnight.

Asaro lamented that the late notice wouldn't allow all of their guests, including her sister, to attend the wedding, which was to be officiated by Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio at the city's justice center.

"You lose a lot when you have this kind of deadline," she said.

Christie's administration is appealing the Supreme Court ruling, but justices said they would not hold up marriages while they consider it.

The justices said they did not think the state's arguments were likely to prevail and that delaying the lower court's order would hurt couples who would not become eligible for certain federal benefits until they could legally marry in New Jersey. 

The decision by the Supreme Court came as a rebuff to Christie, a Republican, who favors civil unions, which New Jersey has offered since 2007.

Justin Jordan, a photographer who shoots many weddings in southern New Jersey, said he's heard from "numerous couples" since Friday. 

"Many people have been waiting anxiously for the chance to get married, and now that they have the chance to do it, they're jumping at the opportunity," Jordan said. "But they're also realizing everything that goes with a wedding, like getting a photographer or video person, buying flowers, arranging for food ... it's a daunting task when you have months to plan, let alone a few days." 

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, soon to be sworn in as a U.S. senator, also announced that he planned to officiate at same-sex weddings after midnight.

"For more than seven years, Mayor Booker has refused all requests to officiate New Jersey marriages because gay couples have been denied that equal right," Booker's office said in a statement. "Mayor Booker is excited to marry both straight and gay couples in City Hall on Monday morning beginning at 12:01 a.m."

Among those seeking their licenses Saturday morning were Hoboken residents Paul Somerville and Allen Kratz, who have been together since 1985. They were previously married in Oregon in 2004, only to have the union nullified by that state's Supreme Court. They also have been part of a domestic partnership in 2006 and a civil union in 2008, both through the city of Hoboken. 

The couple said they will receive their license on Tuesday and plan to wed Thursday in a private ceremony. Kratz told The Jersey Journal that it's wonderful to be able to marry his longtime partner. 

"Civil rights always come too early for those in a comfortable position of power and never soon enough for those who have been denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Kratz said. 

Asaro and Schailey – the couple to wed at midnight -- were the first New Jersey couple to enter into a civil union in 2007, also a ceremony officiated by DelVecchio. On Friday, Asaro received a call from the mayor, offering his services once again.

"He said, 'Let's make this Chapter 2 and really put a bow on it,'" Asaro said.

Regardless of the last-minute scramble to prepare, Asaro said the night would be one to remember.

"No matter what happens, we're going to have an incredible night," she said.

NBC's Elizabeth Chuck and Pete Williams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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