On Tuesday, we will see the first step in the effort to pass Senate Bill 1 (S1), the Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act. It promises to be an exciting hearing. Our friends at Garden State Equality will be there, and I’m sure the proponents of marriage discrimination will be also.
America was founded on principles of individual rights, and it’s appropriate that the marriage equality bill is the first piece of legislation to be considered in this session. That’s not to say that jobs, health care, and education are not critical. But individual rights are the bedrock of our society, and should never take a back seat to the other important issues.
Despite the Constitutional guarantees, there are still people who, as Steven Goldstein of GSE puts it, demand “special rights” of heterosexual marriage. It’s important that we understand and counter their arguments so that we help tip the balance in the legislature toward the side of marriage equality.
(More, including videos, below the fold)
The Fallacy of the “Sanctity of Marriage”
Right wingers and Bible thumpers are fond of saying that marriage equality will somehow adversely impact the “sanctity of marriage.” Their argument falls apart upon close examination.
First, consider the word “sanctity.” Dictionary synonyms for “sanctity” are “holiness”, “saintliness”, and “godliness” – all terms coming from the world of religion. What the anti-marriage crowd needs to understand is that there are two aspects of marriage – civil and religious. In fact, opposite-sex couples have been able to marry in non-religious civil ceremonies ever since this nation was founded. When a clergyperson performs a wedding, he or she is acting as an agent of the government as far as the civil aspect of marriage is concerned, not the other way around.
Yes, there is holiness in marriage – but only in the religious aspect of it. When my rabbi performed the wedding ceremony between me and my wife, there was an overwhelming aspect of holiness. And when I attended a wedding of a lesbian couple officiated by the same rabbi, there was an equally spiritual sense.
My rabbi chooses to officiate at same-sex marriages. But the bill before the legislature does not require him or any clergy to do so. If a clergyperson does not approve of marriage equality for religious reasons, no one is compelling him or her to compromise on those principles.
There are a myriad of reasons why marriages fail – money, philandering, and health issues come to mind. But if someone feels threatened in their marriage because two other people who love each other are married, perhaps they should re-examine their own marriage.
Some people contend that the issue of marriage equality should be decided upon by the voters. Although such a referendum is likely to pass, it’s just not the way we do things in America. Our civil rights are rights, not something that’s given to us at the whim of the voters. I’m sure there are parts of the country (and maybe even parts of New Jersey) where a racial equality ballot would fail. A referendum on marriage equality is just a bad idea.
When the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that all couples should have equal rights, the state’s answer was civil unions. What could be wrong with that? After all, everyone who gets married is really entering into a civil contract with their partner. But the inconvenient truth here is that civil unions just don’t work. Rather than me telling you why, let’s hear from some couples who have first-hand experience with this. At the January 9 press conference where Senators Sweeney, Weinberg, and Lesniak introduced S1, two couples spoke about their experience with civil unions:
Governor Christie’s Veto
Marriage discrimination proponents contend that the current legislative initiative is a waste of time and effort because Governor Christie has threatened to veto the bill. And as long as the governor puts his political ambitions above the rights and desires of New Jersey citizens, the threat of a veto is present. But the governor is neither stupid nor evil. Other conservative Catholic politicians have supported marriage equality when they invest the time to learn about it. Maybe Chris Christie will make his decision on the cold political facts, rather than what’s right. But even if he does, he may soon realize that the tide is turning overwhelmingly toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, especially among younger voters of both parties.
Support Marriage Equality on Tuesday
As GSE’s Steven Goldstein writes, “If ever there was a day to take off from work … this is it, history in the making.” Come to Trenton on Tuesday – the hearing starts at 11:00 AM, but get there early. Come to testify or just to show your support. The marriage discrimination folks will be there in full force. Let’s show the legislature, the media, and the governor that the time for marriage equality is now!