Legislators Launch Strike on Same-Gender Marriage

At two demonstrations organized by the ACLU-NJ and the NJ Lesbian and Gay Coalition, nearly one hundred people protested A.2193 and S.1376, the so-called "Marriage Protection Act of 1996." On September 8, State Assembly members Marion Crecco in Bloomfield and Michael Patrick Carroll in Morristown were treated to civil rights activists expressing their disapproval of the sponsorship by Crecco, Carroll, and others of legislation which would withhold state recognition of same gender marriages. These proposals would also deny legal recognition of same sex marriages performed lawfully in other states.

ACLU-NJ Executive Director Ed Martone told the demonstrators that their public message was a powerful one and that the lobbying and public education efforts must continue in order to achieve success on this issue.

By the time you read this, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will probably have been signed into law by President Clinton. DOMA creates a federal definition of marriage that excludes same-gender unions, and purports to give states permission to refuse to recognize such unions even when they are legally established in other states.

The driving force behind DOMA is the possibility that Hawaii's Supreme Court will require the government of our 50th state to recognize same-gender unions as a result of a challenge brought under the state constitution. While this case will probably not be decided until 1998, it has already struck fear in the hearts of homophobes in federal and state offices around the country, who are afraid that they may have to recognize the same-gender marriages entered into in Hawaii, if and when that state grants legal recognition to such unions. NJ is no exception to this trend.

Pending legislation, entitled the "Marriage Protection Act of 1996" (also known as A.2193 and S.1376), would prohibit legal recognition of same-gender marriages in New Jersey and withhold recognition of such marriages performed elsewhere. This legislation is unconstitutional, inconsistent with New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, and establishes a hateful and misguided public policy in the Garden State.

The ACLU has long taken the position that the denial of the right to marry to lesbians and gays violates the right to privacy and equal protection of the law. In the 1960's, we took the same position with respect to laws that prohibited marriages between blacks and whites, and the Supreme Court agreed with us in 1967. Decisions about family composition and definition are some of the most important ones any person can make; concern the most intimate details of our lives; and are essential to our self-definition and happiness. The government has no right to interfere in those decisions, nor to attempt to discourage particular decisions, absent a compelling state interest. There is no legitimate or compelling interest in denying gays and lesbians the right to marry.

Some oppose the legal union of gay and lesbian couples on the basis of their inability to procreate. This ignores the fact that many same gender couples do have children. And imagine the uproar if heterosexual couples applying for marriage licenses had to be pre-screened for fertility or had to certify their intention to have children. Should licenses be denied to older couples, or post-menopausal or infertile women?

Many people have cited religious objections to gay marriage. However, state recognition of such marriages would not force any religious body to recognize or perform them.

How, and from what, does it protect marriage to shut out certain loving, committed adults from its benefits and responsibilities? The happily married should generously want to share that joy, rather than seeking to exclude others from it. Firm believers in the institution of marriage should not feel threatened by its appeal to non-traditional couples who seek its added stability and support. If marriage needs to be defended, it is against its real enemies: domestic and societal violence, child abuse, increasing numbers of families homeless as well as in poverty, inadequate health and child care, and other pressing concerns.

Additionally, refusal to recognize the validity of marriages performed in other states would violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 4, Section 1), which requires states to recognize each other's legal proceedings. Giving force to other state's legal decisions is essential to our continuation as one country, rather than 50 separate ones.

Issuance of a marriage license does not and should not signify state approval of a particular marriage. Rather, state recognition conveys distinct economic and legal consequences, affecting such matters as child custody and visitation, health benefits, inheritance, Social Security, medical care decisions, taxes, and divorce protections. There is no legitimate reason to deny these benefits to lesbian and gay couples.

Everyone should contact the Governor and their state legislators and offer their opposition to A.2193/S.1376. It will take the lobbying and political prowess of every civil libertarian to defeat these hateful proposals, as the Assembly bill alone has 29 co-sponsors! If you need the names and phone numbers of your state legislators, please call the ACLU-NJ office at (201) 642-2084, or your local town hall, and please let us know of any responses you receive.

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