Montclair residents Peter Wert and Tom Rose became the first gay couple to be married in Montclair — and one of the first in New Jersey — when they exchanged vows during a candlelit ceremony at First Congregational Church Monday just after midnight.
The two were legally married as a result of Friday’s State Supreme Court ruling upholding a trail judge’s decision to allow civil marriages for same-sex couples to start on Oct. 21.
The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes, but the relationship began more than 22 years ago for Wert and Rose, who are 49 and 53.
Wert said as Monday drew nearer, it became increasingly important for him and his longtime partner to make a statement.
“We need to be part of the statement that really shows how important this is and to do it immediately when the law comes into affect,” said an ecstatic Wert on Monday afternoon. “Somebody has to put a face to it, and especially in a community like Montclair that is so diverse.”
The last-minute decision to tie the knot was possible thanks to Montclair township employees unlocking the doors at the Municipal Building at 6 p.m. Sunday to let them file an application for a marriage license.
The couple then headed to the Essex County Courthouse in Newark where at 9 p.m. a judge waived the 72-hour waiting period normally required to be issued a license. They were one of about eight couples there, including four to be married by Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
In the meantime, tuxedos were pulled down from the attic and guests were invited via email. Some friends brought champagne and wine, another made bouquets and the minister’s daughter purchased a cake. An acoustic version of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” was chosen for the ceremony.
First Congregational Church Rev. Ann Ralosky received a text from the couple asking if she would preside over a midnight ceremony, and she agreed.
“This is really an affirmation of a commitment and a love that they have been honoring for 22 years,” said Ralosky about the first gay wedding to take place in the South Fullerton Avenue Church where about a third of congregants are LGBT.
The ceremony went off mostly without a hitch. The wedding bands long worn by the couple would not come off so the minister had to bless them on their hands. Their 11-year-old twins stayed up way past their bedtimes to witness their fathers’ marriage.
“What were we fighting for exactly? Tax rights or the right to be committed in front of friends and family?” said Wert, who is active in the marriage equality movement. “It was really truly a magical moment.”
Wert is a stay-at-home dad who serves as co-president of the kids' school PTA and is active at First Cong, where he sings in the choir. Rose is an attorney in Manhattan. The two moved to Montclair from New York when the children were entering kindergarten.
He said while they had considered getting married in other states they ultimately chose to hold out until it became possible in New Jersey.
Civil Unions have been legal in the state since 2006, and First Cong, part of the United Church of Christ, has been an “open and affirming congregation” to LGTB members of the community since 2005.
Ralosky said she has presided over a handful of civil unions since she became the minister in 2009. Many couples she said have been holding out for full marriage, which is now legal in New Jersey and 13 other states.
While the “I Dos” may have been exchanged, Ralosky said, the challenge now is for their marriage to remain valid.
On Monday, Gov. Chris Christie dropped his appeal of the court ruling to allow gay marriage in the state.