Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NJ Supreme Court: "You Don't Have to Call them Married, but You Have 180 Days to Give them the Same Rights"

In a 4-3 decision today, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that based on the state's constitution gay couples who choose to so commit to one another should have access to marriage rights. The ruling also said that the State's Legislature has 180 days to decide what it wants to call such unions, giving them the option not to refer to them as "marriages."

So what does this mean for:

People like John and me? Not much if they live in Indiana, but if they live in NJ, a "?" license will allow committed couples full inheritance protections, hospital visitation rights, end of life responsibilities, spousal insurance coverage, everything that is automatically given to NJ's married couples except for the 1,138 federal rights and benefits straight married couples receive.

NJ Churches? The religious right is fond of saying that if gay marriage is allowed they will have to perform gay unions. They won't. Churches, conservative and progressive alike, legally deny people the right to get married in their places of worship all the time. We have mixed-faith (bi-faithful?) couples who come to Broadway to get married because their churches won't perform their unions. If a church, however, is receiving state funds or is acting on behalf of the state in some capacity, then they will probably have to rethink some of their positions or practices. This is what happened with a Catholic adoption organization who decided they would rather shut down than allow kids to be adopted by gay couples.

Democrats? A lot of people think this is bad news for the Democrats this November. In fact, while I'm thrilled with the ruling, the cynical part of me wonders if this was Karl Rove's "October surprise" since the timing (two weeks before the election) of the decision , which wasn't scheduled to come down until after the elections in November, will probably serve as a get out the vote call for the religious right. But then again, that is like Republicans blaming Democrats for the Mark Foley scandal.

Republicans? Maybe not as much as people think. A lot of good people, including many Republicans, want our families to be treated equally, they just believe the word "marriage" is a descriptor of straight relationships. The court gave the legislature a way out of the naming nuttiness. If Republicans want to make an issue of this ruling, they have to dance around the fact that they are saying they don't want 161,000 gay couples with kids treated equally, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of us who don't have kids. Update: Had the NJ court ruled to call gay unions marriages, people like us could go to NJ, get married and then petition to have our marriages recognized in our home states. The court left a way for those challenges to be denied, therefore Reupblicans can't use it as a "see, we told you so, now lets have that federal amendment please" issue."

The "M" word? My friend Jack, who is gay, wiser than me, and has been with his partner for years, once said, "David and I need the rights, but I don't necessarily want the word 'marriage' attached to our relationship." I get his point. Marriage has been used in the past to keep women in the role of property and typically has about a 50-50 chance of success these days. If NJ comes up with terminology that doesn't include "marriage" at least it won't carry that baggage with it. I don't need the word "marriage" attached to our relationship, but I must admit that I don't like the history that "separate but equal" has in our country either.


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