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New Jersey judge declines to delay start of gay marriages

By Dave Warner

(Reuters) - A New Jersey judge on Thursday denied a request by Republican Governor Chris Christie's administration to put off gay weddings in the state until after it had appealed the court decision that the state's law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, who last month ruled that the state must begin allowing gay marriages on October 21, puts New Jersey on track to become the 14th U.S. state to recognize same-sex marriage, in addition to the District of Columbia.

Jacobson wrote that the Christie administration had failed to demonstrate that the state would be harmed if gay weddings went forward.

"Plaintiffs would suffer many hardships of constitutional magnitude if the stay were to be issued, but the state has not demonstrated how it would suffer in any meaningful way if the order is enforced," Jacobson wrote.

Christie's office could not be reached for immediate comment on whether the administration would appeal Jacobson's order to a higher court. Superior courts in New Jersey are at the trial court level.

Polls show the Republican governor with a strong lead heading into November, when he is up for re-election. He is also seen as a likely contender for his party's presidential nomination in 2016.

Democratic leaders in the state legislature applauded the Thursday ruling.

"I applaud this sound decision that supports equality for all New Jerseyans," said assembly speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat. "Governor Christie needs to finally get the message and stop doing everything he can to stand in the way of civil rights."

The battle over same-sex marriage is also being staged in the state legislature, where majority Democrats in both houses are attempting to muster the votes to override Christie's veto of a law that would allow same-sex marriage.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

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