New Jersey has felt the brunt of New Yorkers’ disdain for generations. Growing up in New York City, people would make “Jersey jokes” and wonder aloud how a state with so many oil refineries could be called the Garden State. I remember when I was in the Boy Scouts whenever we had a scouting event in New Jersey my parents made such a big fuss about it that I sometimes thought I was going to a foreign country.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to appreciate New Jersey. From the beautiful beaches of the Jersey shore to the progressive political climate, the people of New Jersey are lucky to live in a state with relative tranquility and prosperity. Most recently, I’ve become enamored with the progressive movement that may finally usher marriage equality in the Garden State as it follows New York’s lead by enacting same-sex marriage.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the legislature back in 2006 to grant marriage equality to its citizens. The legislature enacted civil unions – a purportedly “separate but equal” structure to grant similar rights to marriage. However, several years after implementation, the New Jersey example has proven once again that separate but equal does not work in the United States of America. Much as separate educational facilities for African-Americans provided inferior education and were eventually outlawed, civil unions fail to provide basic civil rights to couples who had enter into them. The failures are well documented by the NJ legislature’s commission on civil unions. Hospitals ignored the unions when gay spouses were in the emergency room, some employers refused to grant health insurance benefits to couples in civil unions and once again, “separate but equal” proved to be a failure.
New York State passed marriage equality in 2011 and hopefully the Empire State’s pioneering law will help the Garden State do the same. The path to victory in New Jersey will require the same bipartisan approach as in New York. If you recall, the New York legislature passed marriage equality with a handful of Republican votes and New Jersey must do the same with an important vote from its Republican Governor Chris Christie or enough votes to override his threatened veto.
The fact that New Jersey now has a Republican governor concerns me in terms of enacting marriage equality. The disparaging comments from the Republican presidential candidates against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community during the recent debates has been an eye opener for many Americans. These candidates wrap themselves in the flag and proclaim their love for liberty, yet in the same breath they continue to fight a culture war against liberty for LGBT Americans. Their position is becoming less defensible and less in the mainstream. The average American, regardless of political orientation, does not agree with Rick Santorum that a child is better off being raised by a father who is a convicted felon in prison than by two loving gay mothers or fathers. I was outraged when I heard this statement, but then again, this was classic Santorum who defends his stance because of what he calls his deeply Catholic faith. Well maybe Santorum should be running for Pope rather than President of the United States. Thankfully, I know many Catholic friends and neighbors who don’t agree with Santorum on this important civil rights issue.
Governor Christie has been very vocal about his disdain for gay marriage, yet in the past few days his rhetoric has changed. Perhaps he is reading the political tea leaves – the majority of Americans and the majority of New Jerseyans now support marriage equality. Rather than his repeated veto threats, he has softened his tone. Perhaps he understands that America is changing on this issue and that younger Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike, – are evolving and supportive of marriage equality. Unfortunately, in today’s Republican Party it is safe to say that if you are a pro-marriage equality Republican, you will never be the party’s nominee for President. To be clear, there are many individual Republicans who support marriage equality and it is the party’s leadership that is falling to recognize this shift in American society.
The drama unfolding in New Jersey is being repeated elsewhere. Washington State and Maryland are in the midst of decisions about enacting marriage equality. New Hampshire’s Republicans are trying to repeal marriage equality there, similar repeal attempts in Iowa are also underway.
The United States Supreme Court will ultimately decide the fate of marriage equality. Hopefully as they did with interracial marriage bans in the 1960’s, the Supremes will rule that the right of every American to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness does not stop at the homes of LGBT Americans- after all, if not for the civil rights advances of the 20th century, neither Clarence Thomas, nor Ruth Bader Ginsburg nor Sonia Sotomayor would be serving on the court today.
Let’s pray that the Supremes will remember those great words of our founders as described in the Declaration of Independence when they vote to affirm every American’s right to marry the person they love.