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Gay rights advocates and N.J. residents have mixed emotions about McGreevey

Gay rights advocates and N.J. residents have mixed emotions about McGreevey

Gay rights groups expressed support and compassion for Gov. James E. McGreevey on Thursday as he called a press conference to acknowledge his homosexuality. But their reactions were tinged with sorrow because the day McGreevey became the nation's first openly gay governor, he announced he would resign. Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey-based organization, said he was "in tears" watching McGreevey's televised speech. "This speech hit me far more as a gay person than it does as a political activist," Goldstein said. "There are millions of lesbians and gay citizens of America who know how very hard it is to come out as an openly lesbian or gay person, but to have to do so in such a public fashion like this, I cannot even imagine what the governor has gone through. My heart is filled with emotion and compassion--and I know I speak for the whole lesbian and gay community--not only for the governor but for his entire wonderful family." Despite his own sexuality, which he acknowledged in a statehouse address with his second wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, at his side, McGreevey had publicly opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. He had endorsed domestic partnerships. "Throughout my life I have grappled with my own identity, who I am," he said. "I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality on myself." Alice Whitman Leeds, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays, praised McGreevey for his "courage as a public figure, a husband, a father, and a gay man." McGreevey said his resignation would be effective November 15, leaving him with three months in office. Leeds said she hoped that during the remainder of his term, McGreevey would feel free to come out in favor of gay marriage. "It takes a while for all of us to become educated," Leeds said. "If he is a proud, out gay man, hand in hand with that profile would be a desire to be treated fairly and equally, and so we hope he will take a look at his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who only ask for the same benefits and responsibilities of marriage that all other Americans enjoy." New Jerseyans were left slack-jawed by the McGreevey bombshell. Some watched it live on television. Some heard it on radio. Some just couldn't believe their ears. "Get out of here," said Jim Nerney, 48, of Middletown, when told the news by an Associated Press reporter at a Parkway rest stop. Persuaded it was true, he shook his head. "It's a shame. He brought a lot of passion to the governor's office, but the fact is that it's not accepted in today's society, and he's paying the consequences." Former governor Brendan Byrne called it "tragic." Others applauded McGreevey's resolve. Others said he should have agreed to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in 2005. Minutes after televisions beamed the dramatic video of McGreevey's news conference over the air, residents reacted with a range of emotions. "Oh, my God!" gasped Rachel Winokur, a salon employee, who watched the announcement at the Tinder Box, a tobacco shop in Evesham Township. "I don't get it," said Debbie Epstein, a coworker. "Why would he do it? His wife is standing right there." Some said McGreevey's private life is irrelevant. "His sexual orientation doesn't matter to me. I feel he's done a good job, holding the line on taxes," said Donald Bowman, 52, of Kearny, a school district worker in Newark. "To each his own," said Vera Allen, 44, of Newark. "As long as he's doing his job, it shouldn't make a difference." James W. Hughes, dean of Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said that McGreevey's blunt admission of a gay affair may have salvaged the otherwise grim occasion of his resignation, either personally or in terms of how history views him. "He was extraordinarily poised, and perhaps it reflected a great weight and burden lifted off his shoulders," Hughes said. "He was pretty straightforward about it: 'I did what I did, I took responsibility for it, and it's going to cost me my job."'

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