On Monday, 13-year-old Jessie Petrow-Cohen testified before the New Jersey state senate judiciary committee on marriage equality. This is the first of two votes expected this week on marriage. The following is the written text of her testimony.
My name is Jessie Petrow-Cohen and I live with my Moms, my sister, my three dogs, our gecko, our hermit crabs, our guinea pigs and our snails in Maplewood, New Jersey. To me a family is a group of people who love each other and are willing to do anything for one another. Let me tell you a little bit about my family.
Like most families, mornings are crazy and one of us will usually leave home without something pretty important. Between walking the dogs and making lunches everyone’s just running around trying to get out the door. Wednesdays are insane. There’s gymnastics, Hebrew school, usually someone who needs to go to a friends house to pick up homework or something like that. And of course we have to get home to watch Glee. We have holidays together with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles; go on vacations together and my parents are at every sports competition or game my sister and I have ever had. I tell them everything about school and friends. I feel that my family is no different. Except for just one thing -- in New Jersey where we live together we are a family but legally we are not.
When anyone is curious about my family I am glad to tell them. When I told my friends I would be coming here today, they went home and begged there parents if they could come to support me -- in fact one of my closest friends, Glynnis Olin, is here with us today. The only thing that’s different about my family and every one of yours is that we have to stand here and ask you if we can legally be a family when you can be one without asking anyone. I think that us having to do something like that may just make our love stronger, but it’s gotten to the point where it just isn’t fair.
When I fill out forms in the beginning of the year it says mother emergency number and father emergency number. In fourth grade, we were making fathers day cards and even though I don’t have a father the teacher made me write one to an imaginary father -- it was crazy. On back to school night my sister had to write a letter to our parents and was required to follow the format on the board that included “Dear Mom and Dad.” It’s these little things over and over again that set my family apart from being totally normal because other then the fact that some people don’t want to give my parents the right to get married, we are.
While some of these situations are unfair, our friends and neighbors are very supportive and helpful. Last December, my house had a very serious fire and the whole community of Maplewood was amazing. People we barely knew offered us a place to stay in their home. For two months after the fire the doorbell rang at 6:00 and a delicious home made dinner was brought to us. People took down our clothing sizes and went out and bought totally new wardrobes. If you are worried that the people of New Jersey are not ready to accept us, I’m here to tell you that they have been for a while. So please, I would really like to be able to dance at my parents’ wedding.
Thank you for letting me speak here today.