New Jersey Takes Step Towards Gay Equality

For centuries people from across the globe have crossed vast lands and waters to partake in the culture of this great nation in which ‘freedom rings’ at every corner. However, it might be more accurate to say that many come here with a notion of grandeur that is quickly swept to the side the way curtains are drawn to reveal the center stage of reality. True freedom and equality under the law does not come without struggle. As the fight for the freedom to love continues, New Jersey reached a milestone five days after Valentine’s Day when a state law legalizing civil unions took effect.
New Jersey is now one of only three states to pass legislation of this nature. The other two are Connecticut and Vermont. It is the fifth state to allow gay couples some version of marriage. California has legislation providing for the legal recognition of domestic partnerships. Massachusetts is the only state with current legislation explicitly legalizing same-sex marriages. While the difference between these titles appears subtle on the surface, they in fact create distinctions among gay couples in the eyes of the federal law.
The most significant difference between marriage and civil unions is that as a product of legislation passed in 1996, federal law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. In the eyes of federal law, a civil union is not accorded federal benefits and protections that are entitled to a married couple. As a result, under state law, civil unions extend rights to homosexual partners including adoption, inheritance, hospital visitation, medical decision rights and the right not to testify against a partner in state court.
However, because of the discrepancy in federal law, members of a civil union are not entitled rights guaranteed outside of their home state. This means, for example, that gay partners cannot receive the deceased partner’s Social Security benefits.
Many partners entered the city halls around New Jersey early on the morning of Feb. 19 with mixed emotions. While eager to legalize their union under state law, many were also cautiously aware that the battle for equality of homosexuals under federal law has yet to be achieved.
‘It’s a step forward, but it’s not true equality,’ said Veronica Hoff, 52, of Mount Laurel, as she stood with her partner.
With this step forward, New Jersey celebrated both the vivacity and tenacity of its homosexual community.
Nonetheless, opposition to gay rights inside and outside of New Jersey continues to cloud a day of victory.
‘It’s same-sex marriage without the title,’ said John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage. ‘It uproots the cardinal values of our culture.’
In response to this opposing argument, one must wonder, ‘What are the cardinal values of our culture?’ How did a nation born out of the idea of one’s right to embark on a journey in the pursuit of happiness find value in excluding a significant percentage of the population from this right?
The concept is beyond liberal or conservative platforms. It is about real-life children, brothers, sisters and friends whose lives are affected by national law that labels them as inferior. In a world where war in the Middle East, genocide in Darfur and poverty across the globe exists, how is it that we can oppress people for loving one another?

Sarah Ghulamhussain is a first-year criminology and political science double-major. She can be reached at ghulamhs@uci.edu.