Memories of Congressman John Adler, a great champion of LGBT equality

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Hi, Blue Jersey.  I would never otherwise post something generic here, respecting that it violates blog etiquette.  But I hope you’ll indulge me under the tragic circumstances of John Adler’s passing.  I just wrote the below to Garden State Equality members.  I hope it shows how much he meant to the LGBT community and our legions of supporters, and provide an additional glimpse into a man we loved very much.

Dear Garden State Equality members:

           Throughout the years, we’ve shared the joys and heartbreaks of activism – thankfully way more joys.  Now I must share with you a heartbreak.   This is brutal.

           Congressman John Adler, who as Chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee partnered with Garden State Equality to author or coauthor many of the 212 LGBT civil rights laws enacted since our organization’s founding in 2004, died today.  He was 51.  He had been in the hospital for the last month after contracting a staph infection.  He leaves behind his wife Shelley, whom he met at Harvard Law School, and their four sons, Jeffrey, Alex, Andrew, and Oliver.

           John Adler had a towering intellect, a heart without boundaries, a grace matched only by his wit, and a steely resolve to win equality for all who have faced discrimination.  As Chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee until his election to the U.S. Congress in 2008, John was one of the most important champions of LGBT civil rights who has ever held public office in New Jersey, often teaming up with our Loretta Weinberg, who of course continues in the Senate today.

           It is impossible to overstate John’s importance as an all-time hero to our movement for equality.  Basically all LGBT civil rights bills in New Jersey go through the Senate Judiciary Committee.  As Chairman of that Committee, John was not only the gatekeeper of our future, but also the successful guarantor.  With every ounce of enormous integrity, passion and wise strategy, John fought for us as if we were his own brothers and sisters.  He used his enormous power to face down anyone who stood in the way of our progress.  


            Under John Adler’s committee chairmanship and through his prime sponsorship of every LGBT civil rights bill during his time in the state Senate, New Jersey won everything from an domestic partnership law to a civil unions law to fully inclusive anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws encompassing protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  When John voted for the civil unions bill in 2006, he publicly stated he was holding his nose in doing so – that he believed only marriage equality meets the constitutional standard of equal protection under law.  Prophetically, even before the civil union law took effect, John told us the civil union law would prove problematic in implementation and not provide equality.

           John was unafraid to stare down even traditional allies when he believed they were selling out equality.  When the NJEA tried to water down the transgender equality bill against the wishes of Garden State Equality and our sister organization, the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, John said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to let it happen.”  When the Corzine Administration astonishingly presented a package of judges that included a vicious anti-LGBT right-winger in exchange for the Republicans’ assent to Democratic picks for the bench, John said, “No way am I letting that homophobe through.”  In those words.  

           And when news broke one cold fall day in 2005 about a dying police lieutenant named Laurel Hester denied the right to pass along her death benefits to her partner – because they were a same-sex couple whose relationship the Ocean County freeholders would not recognize – the first call I got from a public official was from John Adler.  I remember John’s words to me as if he said them yesterday.  “Steven, this is obscene.  What are we doing about it?  I’ll meet you today.  I’ll cancel whatever else I have.”

           Friends, I weep as I write those words and the memories come rushing forth.  I loved John Adler.  Thousands of us at Garden State Equality and across activism loved him.  If emptiness can feel heavy, we are searingly burdened by its weight today.

           May God bless the memory of John Adler, and may God provide comfort to his wonderful wife and sons.  As generations live the benefits of John Adler’s profoundly impactful work, the legacy of his life will last forever.


           Steven Goldstein

           Chair, Garden State Equality

Baruch Dayan HaEmet

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