By Assemblyman Reed Gusciora
Recently, Gov. Chris Christie appealed the decision by a Mercer County Superior Court judge to allow same-sex marriages to begin in New Jersey on Oct. 21, and followed it up with an emergent application to the court to stop any same-sex marriage ceremonies until the state Supreme Court reviews the case.
Essentially, the governor wants to give gay couples a “waiting period” on whether the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment applies to them.
In the simplest of terms, there should be no waiting period on equal protection for anyone under our laws. And yet, the governor’s stance against marriage equality has forced same-sex couples to endure just that.
Adding insult to injury, the governor is willing to spend millions on legal costs to continue pursuing his indefensible “political position.”
At the same time, he has said that the initiative should go on the ballot for voters to decide because he doesn’t think 120 legislators should be left to decide the issue. The Governor appears lost on the irony that he is one person who has selected himself to be the sole arbiter on this decision when it has already been decided by popular, judicial and legislative opinion.
Moreover, 14 states now recognize marriage equality, with New Jersey and Pennsylvania being the only hold-outs in the Northeast.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Windsor case paved the way for any married gay couples to enjoy federal tax benefits in the same way that heterosexual couples enjoy such benefits.
Since the demise of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, states should now be free to recognize the civil marriages of gay couples from other states, especially when they move to the Garden State.
The governor’s actions, however, would deny gay couples in New Jersey the ability to enjoy tax benefits currently reserved only for married couples. That’s called a delay of equal protection.
I personally know of a lesbian couple who were duly married in Massachusetts and recently moved to New Jersey, but as soon as they crossed the Verrazano Bridge they became “civil unionized.” The governor is essentially telling gay New Jersey couples, if you want to be married, move out of the state.
It begs the question: How does this square with our Constitution?
The governor’s lawyers are essentially arguing that since the last New Jersey Supreme Court decision granting same-sex couples the rights and privileges of marriage did not contemplate granting federal benefits to civil unionized couples, there is no harm in continuing to deny them now.
This is breathtaking, not to mention a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.
During last week’s gubernatorial debate, the governor clarified his stance by saying that he is merely protecting a definition of marriage that is 2,000 years old.
This completely ignores the fact that the definition of marriage has evolved greatly over the last 2,000 years. Women are no longer considered property; interracial marriages are not illegal; we allow divorce and remarriages; and now many marriages are indeed founded upon love.
Despite our vastly different opinions on this matter, I still harbor no hard feelings over the governor calling me “numb nuts” when he first made public pronouncements on his objections to same-sex marriages.
I just hope that the governor understands my fervency for everyone having equal rights under the law, including the right to be married to the person they love.
During the second and final gubernatorial debate this week, the governor elaborated on his position, stating, “If my children came to me and said they were gay I would grab them and hug them and tell them I love them. I would also tell them that your dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
While parts of the governor’s statement are admirable, this ignores one of the core tenets of our democracy – that everyone has a right to pursue happiness – a notion underscored in schools every day across our country when children each day recite a pledge that there be “liberty and justice for all.”
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 15th legislative district in Mercer and Hunterdon counties, which includes the towns of East Amwell, Ewing, Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, Lambertville, Lawrence, Pennington, Trenton, West Amwell and West Windsor.