What happened this week in the New Jersey state Senate was an absolute disgrace. There’s no explanation for it that makes any sense. It never makes sense when elected officials sworn to uphold not only the Constitution, but the rights of each citizen to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do just the opposite.
This week, with 3 abstentions (talk about cowardly), the Senate voted 20-14 to reject the so-called “gay marriage” bill. It wasn’t even close. You can’t blame the Republicans— all of whom voted against the bill, except for a courageous senator named Bill Baroni from Mercer County. Republicans have always been against gay marriage. They don’t hide their fear and distress of the gay community. They’ve articulated for years that somehow (even though the logic escapes me) granting same sex partners the same legal rights as heterosexual couples via “marriage” would jeopardize and threaten more traditional relationships.
But, it’s the Democrats who should be really ashamed. They are the bigger disgrace. Democrats, supposedly, are the party that stands for those who are our most vulnerable citizens: the poor, racial minorities, the elderly, and yes, those who are born gay and choose to live their lives like the rest of us who happen to be straight. Maybe, it’s the word “marriage” that freaks some people out and scared so many Democrats into doing what they knew in their hearts was wrong—which was to vote against this bill. But, these same Democrats have gladly accepted tremendous political support from the gay community. They’ve taken their money, their volunteers, their votes, but, in the end, after years of being in control of both legislative houses and the governorship, the Democrats failed in their moment of truth to deliver.
The Democrats owed this to the gay community, because the right of same sex couples to marry should have been a no brainer. All it would have done was grant the same legal rights the rest of us who are married have; and, don’t let anyone tell you that the civil union law passed a few years ago gets the job done, because it doesn’t. Same sex partners still don’t have each others health benefits. Even if they’ve been together, have a joint bank account, own a home together, and parented a child, only “married” couples—even if they’ve been together for two weeks— share each others health benefits. Under the civil union law, many same sex partners still aren’t able to make critical medical decisions involving their partner, often when it comes to a moment of life and death in a hospital. Only “married” couples have that right.
Steven Goldstein, who heads up Garden State Equality, has led the gay marriage effort for years and, like hundreds of his fellow supporters, was brought to tears as the historic vote took place in the state capital. Said Goldstein, “Whose marriage are we hurting?” Goldstein and his longtime partner Daniel Gross got married seven years ago in Canada. “All we are is the couple next door. What a threat we are to the institution of marriage.”
Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union) gave an impassioned and powerful speech on the senate floor as a prime sponsor of the gay marriage bill. He served with gay soldiers in the army who put their lives on the line to protect our liberties and civil rights. “We served along American heroes who had to hide and deny their sexuality in order to fight for the freedom and liberties we have today,” said Lesniak. His colleague, Senator Nia Gill (D-Essex) who is Black and a longtime civil rights leader said this, “just because this is not a racial injustice does not mean that it is not a civil rights injustice”. For me, that’s what this all comes down to: civil rights, constitutional rights, and human rights.
In 1984, as a state legislator, I was one of the prime sponsors of legislation that allowed homosexuals to have the same rights as the rest of us when it came to housing and employment. That bill got nowhere during my short, two-year stint in the statehouse. But, seven years later, that bill became a law. At the time, before it was passed, many fellow legislators said, if it became law, it would somehow threaten the rest of us. That never happened. No one was threatened. No one was hurt.
The same thing was said when Blacks were denied their civil rights; that, somehow, passing certain laws, giving Blacks the same rights as Whites would infringe upon the rest of us. Funny, that never happened either. So, to me, passing a law, giving same sex partners equal (not better or more) rights as the rest of us would have been another step in assuring equality to all Americans— regardless of race, religion, or their biologically determined sexual orientation. Then again, maybe it’s just me. I kind of take the Constitution and the idea of equal rights for all Americans pretty seriously. But, apparently, a lot of cowardly legislators in the New Jersey State House—particularly Democrats— don’t feel the same. By calling the gay marriage rejection a disgrace, I’m being kind. It’s actually worse.
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