When a door closes, a window opens. Or that’s the hope when it comes to same-sex marriage. Despite a judge throwing out the federal DOMA challenge Smelt v. United States, there is some good news on the marriage front. And it comes from, of all places, New Jersey.
It’s there that a lame duck legislative session beginning Nov. 3 will be used to debate a long overdue marriage equality bill. Back in 2006, you’ll recall, legislators passed civil unions after the State Supreme Court declared gay couples deserve the same rights. But there was no M-word.
Equality advocates like Garden State Equality are hoping to change that. And it looks like public support is on their side; nearly half of Jersey residents think gays should be able to get married.
Moreover, it’s fantastic to hear a whole new breed of activists are joining the cause. Folks like Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro “who … never thought of themselves as activists … have been talking with legislators about why they believe the state should recognize them as a married couple.”
Walpin and Shapiro have been a couple for 20 years and were married by a rabbi 17 years ago. Walpin said she believed that when they joined in a legally recognized civil union in 2007, they would get the same legal benefit as married couples.
The key issue for them was health insurance. Two of the couple’s four children — a son who died at 20 last year — had serious and costly disabilities.
Walpin, a nurse, said that when she was looking for a job, she found that some employers, apparently flouting the law, would not offer insurance to employees’ partners.
“If I were to take a position without health benefits, essentially, I’m being paid less than my heterosexually married colleague,” she said.
She said she believes companies would respect their relationship if it were called marriage.
Well no crap — even New Jersey’s own Civil Union Review Commission found civil unions weren’t good enough.
But while Walpin and Shapiro look to their own kin as a reason why marriage equality needs to come to the Garden State (home to fantastic sports), there are others using the same reasoning to argue against it.
The Marriage Minutement, a group organized by the New Jersey Family Policy Council, is holding meetings in conservative churches, mostly in legislative districts where lawmakers are believed to be on the fence on the issue, to tell volunteers how they can help.
Last week, Pat Mannion and about 140 others came to Vineland’s cavernous modern Chestnut Assembly of God for one of the meetings.
Mannion, a widow, said she would regret it if she didn’t try to stop gay marriage from being allowed in her state. “This is what I want to leave my grandchildren,” she said. “Not only is money an inheritance, lifestyle is an inheritance.”
Like others, she fears that allowing gay marriage would validate homosexuality in law and culture and undermine her values.
But maybe there’s less to be worried about, because Jersey is a state of flip-floppers. Three years ago, Gov. Jon Corzine was backing opposite marriage only, damning gays to second-class status. Now he says he’ll sign a gay marriage law if one hits his desk.