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N.J. justices to hear gay marriage case

TRENTON, N.J. — The state’s highest court on Friday agreed to hear a case on whether gay marriage should be legal and whether same-sex weddings can be performed while it decides.

A lower court judge ruled last month that the state must legalize same-sex marriage starting Oct. 21, but Governor Chris Christie’s administration said in a court filing Friday that a single judge should not be able to force New Jersey to do so.

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The argument was included in a brief the state submitted in support of its emergency appeal after a state judge refused to delay her order that New Jersey legalize same-sex marriage as of Oct. 21.

‘‘To overhaul such an ancient social institution prematurely, precipitously, or in a manner ultimately deemed unnecessary would injure not only the public interest, but the State that represents this interest,’’ the state attorney general’s office said in its brief.

The state Supreme Court accepted the case Friday, skipping the normal course of letting an appeals court hear it first. Oral arguments were scheduled for January.

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Thirteen states allow gay couples to marry. New Jersey offers gay couples civil unions but not marriage.

Same-sex marriage has been a political and legal issue in New Jersey for more than a decade, but it probably has never had the urgency it has now.

A group of couples plus the gay rights group Garden State Equality sued in July in an effort to get the state to recognize gay marriages.

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