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Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Marriage" for All, or "Marriage" for None. The Legislature of my state, New Jersey, on Thursday passed "civil union" legislation that would grant all the legal rights but not the name "marriage" to same-sex couples. Not good enuf.
Proponents of "civil union" for same-sex couples but "marriage" for heterosexual couples might cite Shakespeare's downplaying of linguistic distinctions:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet."

But we know that language matters, hugely. Would these same legislators think it fine if New Jersey State Police addressed white men as "Sir" but black men as "Boy" or "Nigger"? I suspect they would not.
So today I wrote to Governor Jon Corzine, with copy to State Senate President Richard Codey (who served for a time as a very good Acting Governor after our last elected governor, Jim McGreevey, announced he was a "Gay American", then resigned for no good reason), and the Assemblyman quoted in the AP story about that legislation:

"Love counts," Democratic Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo [of my city, Newark], a chief sponsor of the bill, said as the debate opened. "The gender of whom one loves should not matter to the state."

This is the text of my message.

"Marriage" for All, or "Marriage" for None. I am the man who in 1970 first offered the term "Gay Pride" as it is used today, for the weekend of events surrounding the first annual march commemorating the Stonewall Riots. I was born and raised in New Jersey, but left in 1965 because I felt I could not be free here. I spent the next 35 years in New York City, but returned to New Jersey in June 2000. I would like New Jersey to have the same courage as Massachusetts, and not wimp out on the word "marriage".
Let's put the issue most plainly. Would you sign a bill that permitted white couples to "marry" but allowed black or interracial couples only to "enter into civil union"? If not, you must veto the present "civil union" bill and ask the Legislature to, shall we say, call a spade a spade, so same-sex legal unions that have the same characteristics as marriage are called, simply, "marriage". In the alternative, you must, to provide the equal treatment under law mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, strip the word "marriage" away from the legal unions the State of New Jersey affords heterosexual couples.
People who see "marriage" as a religious sacrament that the state does not have the power to bless cannot object to all nonreligious unions being termed only "civil unions", "legal unions", or some other term. Conversely, of course, if the State of New Jersey confers "civil union" upon every couple and any church then blesses that union, then in that church's eyes that couple will be "married". The problem arises, however, of whether society, not just a given liberal church, recognizes committed same-sex couples as "married".
Why cause such problems? If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Why call it a "generic waterfowl"? "Civil union" IS "marriage" IS "legal union". But "marriage" has all the power of legitimacy. All else is second-class.
If you refuse to use "marriage" for same-sex legal unions, you must remove that term from heterosexual legal unions. Let's see how straight couples like the idea that they aren't married unless not just the state but also some church says they're married. I suspect they won't like it at all. If you think so too, save us all from confusion and division. Reject "civil union". Embrace "marriage". And let us all move forward in the 21st Century as equals. The world is watching (http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6281233,00.html). Do New Jersey proud.

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