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Governor Chris Christie has dropped his legal challenge to same-sex marriage in New Jersey. His announcement came just hours after same-sex couples there began tying the knot for the first time.
As NPR's Joel Rose reports, Christie's decision means New Jersey is effectively the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriage.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: While most of New Jersey slept, scenes of joy played out across the state in the wee hours of the morning.
MAYOR CORY BOOKER: I declare Joseph and Orville to be lawful spouses in the state of New Jersey.
ROSE: In New York, Democratic mayor of New Jersey, senator-elect Cory Booker, married seven couples just after the stroke of midnight, starting with Joseph Panessidi and Orville Bell.
JOSEPH PANESSIDI: We grew up in the '50s, where just to be gay was illegal. And now today, we're married.
ORVILLE BELL: We've seen tremendous history of monumental events. This is one of those monumental events.
ROSE: But the biggest surprise came later in the day, when Governor Chris Christie gave newlyweds across the state an unexpected wedding present. Christie, a Republican, had been fighting a state court ruling that required New Jersey to offer same-sex marriage. But today, Christie dropped that appeal, saying New Jersey's highest court had basically ruled already when it refused to stop the weddings from taking place before hearing the appeal.
That reversal did not sit well with social conservatives like Len Deo of the New Jersey Family Policy Council.
LEN DEO: We're disappointed that Governor Christie dropped the appeal and surrendered the moral authority of the executive branch. But the New Jersey Supreme Court essentially stacked the deck.
ROSE: The decision may also anger many in the conservative wing of the Republican Party, just as Christie is said to be considering a run for the White House in 2016. Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray thinks Christie is trying to position himself nationally as the moderate choice in the Republican field.
PATRICK MURRAY: It's less about appealing to the right-wing and more realizing that he's never going to be the right wing's candidate anyway. So the calculus was let's move on, you know, let's look like we're more interested in governing than in fighting losing battles.
ROSE: In the last few weeks, Christie also waded into the national debate on immigration reform by saying that the children of undocumented immigrants should qualify for in-state tuition at public universities in New Jersey. Whatever the reason for the governor's decision on same-sex marriage, it was a relief for couples who won't have to wonder if their marriages are legal.
MARCIA SHAPIRO: Oh, my God. We are absolutely elated. It's finally over. New Jersey has marriage equality forever. We couldn't ask for anything more.
ROSE: Marcia Shapiro and Louise Walpin are two of the plaintiffs who brought the New Jersey case in the first place. They spoke to WBUR's HERE AND NOW.
LOUISE WALPIN: There was no way anyone can erase what has happened. We know that generations to come, children can grow up knowing that whoever they love they can grow up, get married and have a family.
ROSE: Shapiro and Walpin had walked down the aisle before, once in a religious ceremony and once in the state of New York. But they say this is the first time they've felt really equal to other married couples in New Jersey.
Joel Rose, NPR News.
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