Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Separate, but (Un)equal.

This week, we are waiting to see if the New Jersey state senate will pass a marriage equality law in their current lame-duck session.  Hey, it could happen... even The Boss has come out in favor of marriage equality.

What I find really interesting about the New Jersey situation is that they have had gay/lesbian civil unions since January of 2007.  This supposedly "separate but equal" instition is what the religous right, and even some of our liberal friends and "fierce advocates", say we should be satisfied with.  Of course, over the last 15 years, every time we actually TRY to gain civil union rights, the conservative movement does everything they can to shoot those down as well.  In fact, Texans went so far in making sure gays and lesbians have none of the rights and priviledges of marriage, they may have inadvertantly outlawed marriage for everyone.  lol.. "As ye sow," and all that.

Meanwhile, back in January of 2009, the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (a state-sponsored body) unanimously decided that segregating same-sex couples into Civil Unions "invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children."

Joanna Grossman at the FindLaw site sums it up better than I can:
First, the New Jersey Commission concluded that a separate legal structure can never be truly equal. It found that the state's use of a separate status to confer marriage-like benefits reinforced the "second-class status" of gays and lesbians, sending the message "that it is permissible to discriminate against them." This line of reasoning led the highest courts in California and Massachusetts to reject civil unions as a constitutionally-permissible alternative to marriage. (As readers likely know, the California ruling was later overthrown by Proposition 8, a voter referendum that ended, for now, the state's brief experience with same-sex marriage – but that is being challenged in the California Supreme Court.) [ed. note - that challenge failed]

Second, the New Jersey Commission found that civil unions fail to capture the intangible benefits of marriage, which is a status that is "universally understood" and has a "powerful meaning." Civil unions, in contrast, are frequently misunderstood and undermined, the Commission found. Witnesses described situations "in which they were forced to explain their civil union status, what a civil union is, and how it is designed to be equivalent to marriage. These conversations include the indignities of having to explain the legal nature of their relationship, often in times of crisis, and the obstacles and frustrations encountered when using government, employer, or health care forms that do not address or appropriately deal with the status of being in a civil union."

Third, the New Jersey Commission concluded that children are worse off for their parents being consigned to civil union status, rather than afforded the status of marriage. The refusal to grant marriage rights has had "a detrimental effect" on the families of civil union couples, the Commission found. Health experts testified about the psychological harm that second-class systems can place on children being raised in same-sex families, especially those children who are themselves gay, lesbian, or transgender.

For these and other reasons, the New Jersey Commission concluded that New Jersey should offer full marriage rights to same-sex couples. (A commission studying civil unions in Vermont reached similar conclusions in April 2008.)
Let's hope the New Jersey lawmakers have the courage to do the right thing.

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