WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Monday, Oct. 21, Gerard Racioppi and Randy Johnson made West Orange history by becoming the first same-sex couple to be legally married in West Orange township.
After the New Jersey State Supreme Court decided that they would not put a stay on same-sex marriages following the appeal filed by Gov. Chris Christie, and questioned the efficacy of Christie's appeal, Christie withdrew the appeal, and a long battle to recognize same-sex marriage in New Jersey ended.
On Saturday, the township Health Department opened their doors for same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses. Five couples registered for weddings to be held the week of Oct. 21. Another ceremony was held on October 23 and three more are scheduled for October 25. Under New Jersey law, all people to be married must file a marriage license application at least 72 hours in advance of the ceremony.
The wedding of Johnson and Racioppi was held on Monday afternoon, October 21. “It was an honor to perform their ceremony,” Parisi said. “There is no bigger moment in a person’s life then the day they get married. It is always a pleasure to be a part of that.”
In interviews with The Alternative Press of West Orange, the couple described the process leading to Monday's historic marriage. Randy and Gerard met through mutual friends at a community theater production in Morristown in 2002.
Both Johnson and Racioppi have a strong faith. Both grew up in the Catholic church. Johnson is the administrative assistant for Diocesan Ministry Services at the Episcopal Diocese offices in Newark. Racioppi, who spent 20 years in Human Relations for Marriott, is currently in seminary to become an Episcopal Priest and is a seminarian at St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Montclair.
In October 2004, the couple had what they describe as their "real wedding," replete with family, invitations, ceremony and reception. The service was held at Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, their home church at the time. When New Jersey approved domestic partnerships, Johnson and Racioppi participated in a ceremony in Maplewood in July, 2002. When civil unions were approved by the state, they had another ceremony in March of 2007.
Racioppi was clear that the couple felt that they have been married in heart and spirit since 2004, but wanted to follow the progress of the law, in a sense, to participate in the validation of same-sex marriage, not only for themselves, but others.
“This is the fourth time we’ve committed to each other. We had a domestic partnership ceremony on July 10, 2004, the first day it was allowed in New Jersey. We then had a ceremony at our church in 2004 and a civil union on March 2, 2007. We really wanted to get married today, the first day same-sex marriage became legal, because it is so symbolic,” Racioppi said.
For same-sex couples, the road to equal benefits under the law compared to heterosexual couples has been a difficult one. Racioppi noted that he and Johnson had executed wills several years ago, but that with the progress of New Jersey state law that it would afford more protection regarding medical and insurance benefits.
“We learned through the township Facebook page that the health department was going to be open and accepting applications on Saturday morning,” said Johnson. We love West Orange and we wanted to make a statement that we’re doing it in our hometown.”
When asked what Racioppi and Johnson did to celebrate their historic union, Racioppi laughed and said "Jessica Glicker, the town public information officer, told us, 'OMG, you have to go to the Highlawn Pavillion and celebrate!' So that's what we did, and we had a wonderful time."