For the group of us who worked together to write this week’s marriage equality letter to NJ legislators, and got it signed by an initial list of 200 of the most committed and active Democrats in the state, the message in the letter is an imperative. In today’s Star Ledger NJ Voices, NJ Democratic consultant Julie Roginsky was asked to talk about why the letter was written, and why so many people stepped up to sign it. I’m going to print the piece, published today by Star Ledger in its entirety. – – Rosi Efthim
Over Thanksgiving weekend, a small group of Democrats circulated a letter calling on Democratic legislators to post, and pass, a marriage equality bill that would give gays and lesbians the same right to marry the rest of us enjoy.
Our goal was to get 100 signatures, which would send a clear message that we expected our legislators to stand up for the values of the Democratic Party and its strong legacy of civil rights.
By the end of the week, 2,500 of the state’s most prominent Democratic activists, including elected officials, consultants, fundraisers, campaign operatives, staffers and grassroots supporters, signed on to our letter. In all my years in politics, I cannot recall another time when so many came together to support a single issue.
This group represents the backbone of the Democratic Party and our message to legislators is clear: we will have your back when you do the right thing and support marriage equality. Most of us have dedicated our careers to getting Democrats elected to public office and we would never do anything to undermine our party and its elected officials. It is precisely because we believe that there are no negative political consequences to supporting this very basic civil right that we are urging this course of action.
Consider the following: Across the country, not one legislator who supported marriage equality, from either party, has ever lost re-election. Several have gone on to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and many have moved up to higher elected office. Not one Democrat who votes for marriage equality in 2009 will lose his or her seat in 2011 because of that vote.
New Jersey is a diverse state and its Legislature represents that diversity. Surely, almost every legislator grew up hearing stories of oppression from their parents or grandparents. It wasn’t so long ago that “No Irish Need Apply” signs hung outside work places, black children were not allowed to attend school with white children, Jews were subject to university admissions quotas and Italians were excluded from white-shoe firms. It is no coincidence that these ethnic groups turned to the Democratic Party when they became politically active. Now it is time for the Democratic Party to do the right thing by another minority group that is denied the legal rights available to the rest of us.
To those who believe that our economic crisis forces legislators to address only fiscal issues, I say that there never appears to be a good time to press for civil rights. But remember that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the dark days of the Civil War, Wilson pushed for women’s suffrage despite a post-World War I recession and Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act even as the nation was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Now is the time for marriage equality.
Those of us who practice politics for a living tend to get caught up in the minutiae of the process. We live and die by news cycles and polls that reflect a small snapshot in time. But in the larger scheme of things, our party has always been stronger when we have embraced diversity. When Democrats promoted the rights of African Americans, we gained an important voting block. When Democrats embraced the rights of workers to organize, we gained another. Both morally and pragmatically, the time has come for us to remember once again why we chose to join the Democratic Party and the history and core beliefs that we stands for as Democrats.
Failure to pass a marriage equality bill will not personally affect my right to marry – as it will not personally affect the rights of most legislators. But I, and the many Democrats who signed our letter, simply feel that the rights enjoyed by most of us must be enjoyed by all of us.
That is why we became Democrats. That is why we have worked all of our lives to elect Democratic majorities in Washington and in Trenton. That is why our fellow Democrats, whom we have supported time and again, should vote for marriage equality.