By Victoria Cavaliere
(Reuters) - Wedding bells will begin to ring for same-sex couples in New Jersey just after midnight on Monday when gay marriage becomes legal in the state, and several mayors plan to officiate at nuptials.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat who will be leaving office this month after his election to the U.S. Senate last week, said he would open City Hall at midnight to perform some of the state's first gay marriages.
The marriages come after New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled on Friday against a request by Republican Governor Chris Christie to freeze a lower court ruling in favor of gay marriage until the top court could hear the state's appeal in January and issue a final decision.
Moments after the state's highest court denied Christie's request, New Jersey municipalities were able to begin officially accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples.
In Newark, seven couples were scheduled to take wedding vows beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Booker's spokesman, James Allen, said.
"Mayor Booker is ecstatic that all New Jersey couples are now being treated equally," Allen told Reuters. "After seven years of declining to officiate marriages in City Hall, it's truly special for him to be able to marry Newark residents in his last days as mayor."
Mayors in Lambertville and Jersey City said they, too, would begin marrying gay couples just after midnight, rather than keeping couples waiting until city offices open later in the morning.
"This has been a long time coming," said Hoboken resident Allen Kratz, who plans to marry his partner of 28 years, Paul Somerville, at a private ceremony on Thursday.
The couple was legally wed in Oregon in 2004, but the Oregon Supreme Court nullified gay marriage a year later.
"We are very excited that now, finally, we get to marry," Kratz said. "I know some political leaders think it's too soon. But civil rights always come too soon for those in a position of power and never soon enough for those who have been denied life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
New Jersey will become the 14th state to permit gay marriage, along with the District of Columbia.
Under state law, those seeking to marry in New Jersey must apply for a marriage license and then wait at least 72 hours.
Some cities began accepting applications on Friday and during extended city clerk office hours on Saturday.
Advocates have asked the court to waive some or all of the 72-hour waiting period for gay couples.
The waiting period does not apply to couples who have been legally wed in the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that already recognize same-sex marriage.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere, Editing by Noreen O'Donnell, Ellen Wulfhorst and Leslie Adler)