Reflections from the Overflow Room

There was a little bit of nutty happening over there in the hearing room yesterday. No worries, babies. Go for marriage equality. Because on that other thing? that free speech thing? I’m here to tell ya, ACLU-NJ’s got your back. – – promoted by Rosi

The vast majority of those testifying at last nights Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on marriage equality told moving stories of love, family and justice. We heard from families who had overcome harrowing obstacles and given back to society in humbling ways, children holding out hope that their parents would be allowed to marry each other like their friends’ families, and some 50 clergy who wanted to marry their congregants.  

In testimony from the other side, although the topic was marriage equality, free speech seemed to play the part of star witness.

One Hasidic rabbi – of whom there were many – voiced particular concern that he would be legally barred from condemning same-sex marriage in his synagogue.

Huh? As an authority on the First Amendment, be assured that you can still slam same-sex marriage all you want at temple.

After the rabbis took the stage, John Tomicki of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage (which represents, as far as I can tell, no one) somehow wound his argument to say that allowing marriage equality infringed upon his religious freedom rights and therefore his right to religious expression. He then asked the senators if they would represent him if he preached his beliefs on the street corner.

Hey, over here, in the overflow room, the ACLU will represent you. Free speech in public places is one of our specialties. Just give us a call (no need to meet in person).

And finally, I spoke with a guy from Knights of Columbus (to his wife’s terror) who was dead sure that marriage equality would result in dramatic free speech infringements. “Just look at what happened in Canada,” he told me five or six times.

What happened in Canada? Nothing as far as I know. But anyway, we don’t live in Canada.

And we have a really strong First Amendment; Canada doesn’t.

The spirit of Rick Santorum hovered in the room as opponents let loose their far-fetched fears that marriage between gay couples would lead to polygamy, underage marriage and, if I heard right, bestiality.

Our country has seen steady progress over the past few decades in wiping out homophobia. We’ve learned that marriage in Massachusetts hasn’t brought society to a halt. Our culture has become familiar with images of gay couples raising families and living ordinary lives. Our opponents have but one thing to cling to: scare tactics. It makes you realize how scared they must be, when they’re swinging desperately in the committee hearing room. (Unfortunately, confronting those irrational fears will be an ongoing project for our side).

The absurdity of the opposition’s arguments in yesterday’s committee room made me realize that even though this fight is far from over, it’s fundamentally over. We win. It’s only a matter of time before we have marriage equality in this country, in every state.

How soon it happens depends on how smart and strategic we can be. It’s a question of whether we can put aside our differences to have honest conversations about our beliefs and our lives. How patient will we be in bringing people along? How impatient will we be to get equal rights? How committed are we to working together and keeping the flame alive? The country, as we’ve seen in a handful of different states this year, still hasn’t figured out what the right answers to those questions are.

I recently heard the folk singer Ferron say something like, “Society can only move forward as fast as the slowest person, so you might as well get to the back of the line and try to help push it along.”

Based on yesterday’s testimony, which was delivered by overwhelmingly by smart, inspiring, amazing human beings standing for their rights, and which included some eloquent truths from Senators Weinberg, Gill and Baroni, the good news is that most people are up here with us. The bad news is too many others are straggling behind.

Comments (3)

  1. kwilkinson

    Yeah, for the time I was there, I had to take refuge from the mixed overflow rooms to the GSE only rooms for part of the time.  The Santorum like feeling that I got came from Cardinale. Oy.

    Having worked to defeat Baroni’s bid for Senate, I gotta say I expected him to vote ‘no’ if no other Republican joined him, as was rumored.  I’m impressed that he stood up alone and suprised the Beck backed down.  But I haven’t forgotten his Assy ‘no’ vote on the watered down Rx Drug bill, on which Beck was a ‘yes’.  How can you vote ‘no’ to a bill that says “Pharmacies have to fill legal prescriptions”?

  2. BlueSteel5935

    This attempt to slam this “marriage equality” down our throats is nonsense and is not going to work.  Let it be known to all of you so called law makers that we will be watching this carefully.  All of you are in enough hot water over the economy and corruption. More change is coming, it started with Christie and that is only the start.  Think long and hard over this one.  This strikes at the core value systems of the overwhelming population of this state and country.  If you don’t care to agree with me, just look at the results throughout this country when it comes to this nonsense.  Play politics to a microscopic portion of mankind and suffer the consequences.    


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