Friday, November 6, 2009

The high price of equality

It's tiresome fighting for what others take for granted. It's also expensive. Last week, my partner and I attended one of several statewide sessions called by Garden State Equality to get the New Jersey LGBT community organized to lobby for civil marriage equality in our state. The window of opportunity for equality is quickly closing as the inauguration of New Jersey's recently-elected Republican governor, Chris Christie, approaches. Christie has made no secret of his opposition to gay equality. GSE needs funds to air ads on television in support of equality. Already, the opponents of equality are airing ads full of lies and fear-mongering. So my partner and I felt we had no choice but to pledge $500 to help air the ads. Another couple did the same and many others at our meeting in New Brunswick followed up with contributions. We did so so that someday we might have the legal protections afforded by marriage. That's not the first time we've made a contribution to fight for our rights and, sadly, it won't be the last. Incidentally, straight couples need merely hand over $28, the cost of a marriage license, to a clerk to obtain the same rights.

Unfortunately, achieving something better than second-class citizen status in our state will take a lot more than writing a check. At the very least, it will take calls every single day to our legislators not only from members of our community but also from our straight allies. The lesbian and gay community is small and, while attendance at the aforementioned meetings was inspiring, too many members of our community are too cynical, apathetic, or ignorant of their own oppression to participate in this effort. Others, after so many years of disappointment, have little hope and even less energy to fight yet another battle. The losses in California in 2008 and in Maine last week, when our rights were put up for a vote (in a way no one else's would be), have only added to this disenchantment. This is why it's all the more important for us to reach out to our friends, family members, and coworkers for help. We are too few in number without the help of our straight allies to offset the shouting and fear-mongering coming from the forces of bigotry.

The forces opposing marriage equality will tell you that marriage equality somehow redefines existing marriages. That's a lie. They will tell you that your children will be taught about homosexuality. That too is a lie. They will say that marriage is a religious institution and that religious institutions will be affected by marriage equality. That is false: civil marriage is granted by the state and New Jersey residents are free, and will always be free, to choose to have that marriage celebrated in a temple, church or mosque of their choice. The state has nothing at all to do with religious marriage and cannot therefore require that any religious institution do anything different than they currently do. The forces of bigotry will try to mislead the public and our elected representatives into thinking that marriage equality is something other than it really is: simply the extension to all New Jersey couples of the civil rights, protections and obligations before the law that currently only opposite-sex couples enjoy. In short, their voices are loud and shrill, qualities which seem too often to hold more sway in our society than the quiet voices of reason.

So I appeal to all my friends and colleagues to join me and my partner and scores of other couples in New Jersey in our effort to gain the same level of equality before the law that our friends in opposite-sex relationships are. If you live in New Jersey, please call your state assembly members and state senator every day starting now. All it takes is a few seconds on the phone with each of their office staffers to tell them your name, that you live in their district, and that you want them to vote to enact full marriage equality for same-sex couples before the end of the year. I do this regularly and it takes absolutely no time at all, the office staffer keeping a tally of how many people call to support marriage equality. Trust me, our enemies are doing the same thing and will stop at nothing to make sure we never achieve our dream of being treated as full citizens of our state.

Looking up your representatives in Trenton is easy. For a search engine as well as talking points, simply go to this link: http://www.gardenstateequality.org/officials/call.html .

Below is the ad my partner and I are helping to air. In addition to calling your legislators, if you would like to contribute to support this ad and the overall effort to persuade the state legislature to enact full equality, please do so by contributing to the Garden State Equality Action Fund.

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