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Opinion: Discrimination at center of debate (12/10/09)

Originally published as a “Reporter’s Notebook” on Thursday, Dec. 10 2009 in The Register-News. Reposted with permission from Packet Publications.

By Geoffrey Wertime

It’s a funny thing, having politicians openly debate whether you deserve civil rights.

It’s difficult to write about in a timely way, in part because the politics are constantly shifting — by state, by legal action (Legislature, referendum, court decision), etc. — but the basic sentiment it provokes is static.

I’m not going to pretend I spent my childhood dreaming about a wedding, but I always assumed I’d end up having one eventually. After all, as a kid, it’s natural to assume every family is like your own.

But as I got older, I realized that because I’m gay, my ceremony may not end up being legally recognized, and people may not respect my relationship at all.

Right now, the state Legislature is debating exactly that. Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-6 to send a bill to allow same-sex couples to get married in this state to the full Senate, which is expected to vote on it today, Thursday. Should it pass, it will move on to the state Assembly.

The arguments for and against my right to marry have been rehashed a thousand times and don’t need repeating here. But I would like everyone to realize this is not some esoteric matter of law or even a general issue of freedom for strangers, but one that shapes thousands of families like mine in a very direct way.

Last week, the New York state Senate defeated a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to get married in that state. Gone in a flash was any hope I had of getting married at the chapel of my alma mater, Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in the near future while I’m still of “marrying age.”

Indeed, that denied me the right to marry my boyfriend, a New York resident, in his home state. The years we’ve spent together mean nothing, though I could team up with a woman, even a total stranger, and go get married there within 24 hours with no questions asked.

That quickie wedding would give us the right to not testify against each other, share health insurance, make medical decisions, take bereavement leave and more than 1,000 benefits that are denied same-sex couples.

Because while some seem able to think of these issues are merely political, it’s impossible for many of us to forget how personal they really are. This is an issue I am reminded of literally every day.

It bears mentioning that our state does recognize civil unions, which I am far from alone in thinking are discriminatory. Few people—and fewer employers, hospitals, and health insurers—recognize them as meaning anything at all, and I have no desire to participate in an institution which perpetuates my second-class citizenship.

Before heading to a friend’s wedding this summer, my boyfriend and I stopped for a quick bite at a place near his home, one he knows well. But that didn’t stop another customer from giving us the evil eye and verbally attacking us, a type of incident we’ve become sadly accustomed to.

That reminded us exactly where we stand as, a few hours later, we witnessed a straight couple take advantage of every right that is denied to us.

This type of discrimination is wrong, and it needs to stop now. New Jersey is poised to do all it can within its borders, and as this issue comes to a head, I hope legislators realize just what it is they’re voting on.

Geoffrey Wertime is the staff writer for The Register-News. He also blogs on gay rights and his personal experiences at gayinpublic.wordpress.com. He can be reached at gwertime@centraljersey.com.

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