Marriage equality is arguably the most important civil rights issue at this time.
I am a 44-year-old man who has been in a loving and committed relationship with my "husband" for 17 years. We live in New Jersey with our two children and two dogs. My partner and I cannot get married because New Jersey currently does not recognize marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. They call it something else. They call it a Civil Union. Does anyone understand what the term means? I certainly don't.
Getting married is a dream that most of us have from childhood. We want to grow up, marry the person we love and perhaps even raise a family. And we want to be recognized as such, fully and equally, in the eyes of the law. We do not want to be treated as second-class citizens or be made to feel inferior.
For so many gay men and women, such disparity and discrimination causes much despair, fear, isolation and, in all too many cases, leads to bullying and physical harm. The emotional toll it takes on our children is even worse. Imagine being a 5-year-old boy, like our son, and being told by a classmate or even a teacher, "Well, you're not a real family. Your dads aren't really married."
The Civil Union law purports to provide same-sex couples all state's rights, benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage — without calling it "marriage." Why? So as not to offend the sensibilities of "traditionally" defined religion! What it succeeds in doing, though, is offending the rest of us — let alone standing in direct contradiction to the principles of separation of church and state.
The Civil Union Law is a failure. Since taking effect in February 2007, many employers across New Jersey have refused to recognize civil unions as equal to marriage, and therefore do not grant equal health benefits to partners of employees. Employers and hospitals say that if the legislature intended for the civil union law to be the same as marriage, the legislature would have used the same name.
Because these employers and hospitals don't recognize civil unions as they would marriage, many same-sex couples go without adequate health insurance. And because of the real-world disparity between civil unions and marriage, some hospitals do not allow civil union partners to make medical decisions for one another, or even to visit one another in the emergency room.
I am pleased that the New Jersey State Senate and the State Assembly have finally voted in favor of marriage equality. This movement is taking root across the country. California's Appeals Court just ruled that Proposition 8, which denied same-gender couples the right to marry, was unconstitutional. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there was "no important governmental interest in denying citizens marriage licenses based on their sexual orientation."
Marriage equality is recognized in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The horror is that our own Gov. Christie has vetoed this legislation. This is truly an abomination and, while cloaked in religiosity, is nothing less than an act of political and religious bullying.
We need three additional votes in the N.J. State Senate to override the governor's veto and we have this legislative session to do so. I pray that my fellow New Jerseyans will raise their voices and call upon their senators to do what is morally right and make the marriage equality bill a reality for all of us.
Lee B. Rosenfield resides in Lambertville, N.J.