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Stumping for
marriage in New Jersey

Stumping for
marriage in New Jersey


The New Jersey supreme court did the right thing at the right time. Now it's up to us to stop worrying about the election and demand full marriage equality.

The New Jersey supreme court decision was an important step in the right direction toward recognizing marital equality for our community. Having previously supported pro-gay legislation in matters of adoption and child care, the court understood that a simple question was before it: Namely, should gay New Jerseyans be afforded the right to marry (with its attendant privileges, rights, and obligations) just as straight Americans are?

The court claimed the responsibility to ensure that committed gay couples receive a legal mechanism identical to marriage, but stated that it was for the state legislature and governor to decide if marriage as a term of art would be used.

Marriage as an institution, word, and symbol is inextricably linked to the concept of a committed, monogamous relationship. Among our most cherished national institutions, marriage, at its best, conjures ideas of warmth, love, and nurturing. Marriage ought to be enshrined in legislation for our gay community.

To use any word other than marriage for committed, monogamous gay relationships implies that our status, whether single or committed, is something less than that of straight people and their relationships. Words and rhetoric are critically important in denoting meaning and for imparting notions of societal worth.

We must work toward the use of the word marriage in state legislation. Justice Barry Albin, who wrote the opinion, is a brilliant jurist whom I had the honor of appointing years ago. My hope is that the gay rights group Garden State Equality, ably led by Steven Goldstein, will be able to marshal the necessary support to secure marriage as a right and a name.

Some progressives have worried about the timing of the court's decision, coming right before an important election. But the unequivocally right thing about this victory is the timing of its announcement. It was not political. The state supreme court announced the decision because of the mandatory resignation date of the chief justice, not because of an election. It would have been wrong and injurious to the state supreme court's reputation to hold the decision until after the election, or to announce it prior, because of electoral concerns.

The court's decision will have de minimis impact upon New Jersey's U.S. Senate election. The war in Iraq, stem cell research, a woman's right to choose, and U.S. Supreme Court nominees will all play a more prominent role than the court's "gay marriage" decision in the calculus of New Jersey voters.

The New Jersey supreme court rephrased the debate over same-sex marriage as a question of equality. It will be our responsibility to frame it as a matter of conscience.

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James McGreevey