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12/15/2006

Forgive us if we don't do cartwheels down the turnpike

by Jeremy Hooper

Images-5So the Garden State legislature has done what we, for one, had hoped they wouldn't. They have interpreted the Supreme Court's ruling that all couples are entitled to marital equality to mean that gay couples are entitled to a sort of parity that involves a different name (civil unions), a different license, a different designator for those involved (parties in a civil union, not spouses or even partners), and just a whole other system of operation.

It's kind of bullsh*t!

Now don't get us wrong -- we recognize that civil unions are better than nothing. In fact, in Connecticut, where such a system was voluntarily set up by the legislature, we applauded such a step, as it is certainly one in the right direction. And we are thrilled that gay couples will be able to obtain benefits such as adoption, hospital visitation, and inheritance rights, as the protection of our families is really the primary concern. But nevertheless, we can't get over what a huge slap in the face it is for the NJ legislature to have the option of giving us total equality, yet deliberately choosing to give us something not quite as equivalent. Even more than that, we can't get over how many people don't seem to understand why this is offensive!

For those who don't see the big deal, just ask yourself what possible motivations could live behind such a legislative action. While we don't think the majority of those who voted in favor of this bill are outwardly homophobic or unfriendly to our issues, it's hard to even analyze their decision without considering the idea that they see our lives and loves as slightly "lesser than." Not in the vehemently anti-gay, "homosexuality is a sin" sort of way, but rather in the casual, heterosexist manner that is still all-too-prevalent even in the bluest of states. The only way to triumph over that sort of sentiment is to take progressive action to directly combat it. The Jersey lawmakers had the unique opportunity to take such a rational step. Instead, they chose to compromise.

Now, we've heard some people call "separate but equal" metaphors off base because this situation is not the same as racial segregation. And we fully acknowledge that this is not anywhere close to the blight that was, and is some cases still is, racial injustice. But the phrase did not begin and end with the African-American civil rights movement! Anytime a group is forced to walk an alternate course to obtain the same rights, "separate but equal" is going to be an applicable expression. We as a people are all weakened by such an idea!

In terms of support in the Garden State -- the media has reported time and time again that support is higher for civil unions than for marriage in the Garden State. While this is technically true, when presented in the terse sound bite form commonly found on local news, it paints a much different picture than what the studies actually show. The latest Quinnipiac poll does indicate that 60% of Jersey voters support same-sex civil unions, but only 44% support full marriage equality. However, it also shows that only 50% of the state's voters oppose same-sex marriage rights! So in terms of marriage support, it's 50% against, 44% in favor, with 5% undecided (and a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points). And, when you break it down in terms of party, it was only Republicans who held a percentage of opposition greater than 50% (70% in favor, 25% opposed)! So yes -- civil unions have more support; they always do. However, 50% opposition ain't so bad, especially when you consider that no civil rights advancement has ever held a majority of popular support at the time of it's enactment!

The bottom line is that our rights are not a situation in which we are willing to negotiate or compromise. We can't afford to! Many Jersey lawmakers have acknowledged that this is just an interim step, and that full marriage equality is on the way. Obviously they are right, as marriage equality is an inevitable for the entire nation, no matter how much our opposition tries to stem the tide of acceptance. But to acknowledge that there is a broader goal that we deserve and will someday get, yet to deem it okay to stop short of that goal as a means of compromise, is a capitulation that we have trouble greeting with applause. There is simply no valid reason why they couldn't have gone ahead and given us full, easily understandable, less wordy, identical MARRIAGE.

So while we are genuinely glad that our neighboring state is one step closer to full matrimonial equality, we are quite saddened that the "fight" is not over. We always say that one of the main reasons we want to see marriage rights granted is so that we all can start dedicating our energies to social "issues" that are truly worth debating. Unfortunately in Jersey, it's not only the struggle for marriage to which we must dedicate time, there's also a question of how even our most liberal lawmakers truly view our relationships that we must now ponder.

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