Loretta Weinberg remembers the moment she learned about the birth of her first grandchild in 2003. Huddled in her New Jersey state senate office with members of a coalition for domestic-partnership legislation, she was approached by a transgender woman who gave her a hug and said, “I’m a grandfather, you know.”

Weinberg, the 74-year-old self-described “feisty Jewish grandmother from Bergen County,” shrugs on a recent fall afternoon when she recalls the exchange—they were simply connecting as two grandparents. With her nonjudgmental ethos and tenacity, Weinberg has presided over rapid gains in New Jersey gay rights since taking office in 2005—enough to make progress in nearby New York seem glacial. The achievements during her tenure as a Democratic state senator include a civil unions law, trans-inclusive antidiscrimination legislation, and paid family leave for same-sex partners. “When you know people, when you love people, it’s normal to want to make sure they have all the same rights and opportunities the rest of us do,” Weinberg says.

On a recent afternoon, Weinberg was in her campaign car en route to a Newark church to hear Princeton University professor Cornel West speak. She mused about her next steps in LGBT legislation and said she’d like to cap her service in the senate with passage of a marriage equality bill, which Gov. Jon Corzine has promised to sign. Weinberg is poised to take office as Corzine’s deputy in January, becoming the state’s first lieutenant governor (Corzine, ahead in the polls as of press time, was running a heated race for the November election). New Jersey voters passed an amendment in 2005 to establish a lieutenant governor post, not long after former governor James McGreevey resigned after a gay affair with an adviser. 

Tags: Politicians