Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Garden State Equality and New Jersey's fight for gay marriage

by Kelly Roache

Try as I might, I will never forget my first experience phone banking for a political campaign. I was a sophomore in high school when I volunteered with Victory NJ 2006, the GOP’s ultimately ill-fated midterm election effort to elect Tom Kean, Jr. to the US Senate. Many – if not most – of the calls ended in disconnected numbers or awkward and fumbling attempts with recipients who could not speak English. It was the latter case that led to a particularly disturbing encounter. As I read from a script about how the Republicans vowed to end the culture of corruption in New Jersey, the woman on the other end of the line interrupted me in broken English and a thick Chinese accent:

“I do not like the homosex.”

I don’t know that words really exist to describe the range of emotions – from shock to disappointment to pity – that I felt in that instant. I promptly wished her a good night and ended the call, unsure of how to react. Rarely in my life had I been faced with such ugly, discomfiting prejudice as I was right then – at least not until last spring.

It was shortly before the end of the semester that I caught wind of the now infamous ad released by the National Organization for Marriage – headed by Princeton’s own McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence – warning against the “gathering storm” of marriage equality, with its “dark clouds and strong winds” that make one of the actresses feel “afraid.” (The rest of their ads are also worth viewing, particularly one alleging that gay marriage should be banned to keep kids from getting “confused”.) I generally find myself on the same page as Professor George – and even if I didn’t, I would respect him for his notable achievements and intellect. But I found this menacing characterization of gay marriage just as disturbing as the woman on my call sheet at the phone bank years before.

A pro-marriage equality conservative is a difficult thing to be (but not as difficult, I try to remind myself, as a gay couple unable to marry under prevailing law). But for me it has always been an issue of conscience. This Republican Party has strayed far from its roots – the cause for my recent re-registration as Independent/unaffiliated. The thought of a
Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage should make, at least in my estimation, diehard small-government conservatives cringe. For me, the federal government has no business defining the morality of marriage between consenting human beings all of equal worth in the eyes of the law and their Creator. And it seems I’m not alone – Ted Olson (of Bush v. Gore fame (yes, he argued on the side of President Bush, as well as arguing for an end to affirmative action and working to impeach President Clinton) has agreed to represent two gay couples in a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 in California:

“For conservatives who don’t like what I’m doing, it’s, ‘If he just had someone in his family we’d forgive him,’ ” he says. “For liberals it’s such a freakish thing that it’s, ‘He must have someone in his family, otherwise a conservative couldn’t possibly have these views.’ It’s frustrating that people won’t take it on face value.”

Yes, it is. Not belonging in either “camp” is a political challenge I’ve wrestled with time and time again, especially for those who believe that a conservative feminist is a contradiction in terms. Still, I was glad when a friend from home approached me this summer about volunteering with Garden State Equality, an organization working to pass same-sex marriage in New Jersey before the year’s end. With six* other states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and, most recently, Vermont – condoning gay marriage, the movement in New Jersey is gathering momentum. Right now, Garden State Equality is just three votes short in the Senate of passing the bill, which will be decided after the November elections so that legislators can vote their consciences (and Governor Corzine can still sign it even if he loses a tough race to former US Attorney Chris Christie). With 20,000 postcards sent to state legislators, 10,000 more in the works before November, and weekly phone banks to turn out their base, the organization is well on its way to winning over enough fence-sitting senators to make gay marriage a reality in New Jersey.

My volunteer stint with Garden State equality may well be (fingers crossed) my first experience working with a winning campaign. The energy displayed by the people we speak to on the phones and meet at postcarding events is a radical departure – and a breath of fresh air – from the apathy and complacency typically plaguing Jersey politics. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, I know that I’ll always treasure the experience for what it’s taught me about challenging assumptions, something I’ve championed as a feminist but never really seen firsthand. When the phone script encourages us to tell call recipients what motivates us to support gay marriage, people on the other end of the line more often than not jump in to “sympathize” with me as a liberal or a lesbian. But I’ve been just as guilty of these assumptions myself; for instance, at a local summer jazz festival, I approached what I expected to be a group of supportive young people, only to find from their looks of disgust that they had no interest in passing marriage equality. That same night, I met an elderly pair of women who professed their excitement at finally “shacking up” after knowing each other since kindergarten. Meanwhile, a 91-year-old man who was anxious to send a postcard to his legislator in clamorous support of the cause: “Well, considering I was in a gay marriage for fifty years, I guess I didn’t know any better by these guys’ logic!”

While it’s uncertain whether Garden State Equality’s efforts will be successful, I think the words of the organization’s head, Steve Goldstein, sum up well the sentiments of those involved with the campaign: "I wouldn't trade where we're positioned with where (the foes of gay marriage) are positioned." With the vote two months out and outreach efforts planned on campuses all over the state, the best we can do is get – or stay – involved in what is quite possibly the civil rights issue of our time.

*Seven, if you count Maine, where gay marriage was supposed to be effective come fall. However, a Prop 8-style referendum coming to a vote in November has put the measure on hold.

9 Comments:

At September 16, 2009 at 12:44 AM , Blogger Emily Rutherford said...

Thank you for writing this.

 
At September 16, 2009 at 10:00 AM , Anonymous 888 said...

Cultural elites (many of them gay) are redefining the institution of marriage along gay norms (i.e.) open cheating. We are dealing, not with an election campaign, but with the possible collapse of a social taboo — something television is ideally suited to achieve. Social taboos may erode gradually over the very long haul, but up close, and especially toward the beginning, you get little collapses — the quick and unexpected falling away of opposition. What used to be hidden emerges with startling rapidity, because much of it was there all along. Polygamy, and especially polyamory, are already widespread on the Internet. Both practices are pushing toward a major public taboo-collapsing moment. We can't know when "critical mass" might be reached, but Big Love has got to be getting us there a whole lot quicker than we were.

the larger effects of such unions on the institution of marriage would be devastating. At a stroke, marriage would be severed not only from the complementarity of the sexes but also from its connection to romance and sexual exclusivity--and even from the hope of permanence. In Hawkins's words, the proliferation of such arrangements "would turn marriage into the moral equivalent of a Social Security benefit." The effect would be to further diminish the sense that a woman ought to be married to the father of her children. In the aggregate, what we now call out-of-wedlock births would increase. And the connection between marriage and sexual fidelity would be nonexistent.

Let me point out the AshleyMadison site which encourages spouses to cheat on each other. See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZLjwhEp7nU&feature=player_embedded

If there was any doubt, this promotional video for NBC's "Mercy" ought to seal the notion that marriage has been re-defined: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W90zI3qHeU&feature=player_embedded

Note the definition of marriage — boring "companionship" where attractive women have what Sandra Tsing Loh in her Atlantic article termed "kitchen bitches," i.e. someone "boring" takes care of the domestic partnership and domestic chores, while women pursue what feminist author termed "passionate and chaotic" relationships. The very idea of fidelity is not something that enters the cultural conversation, and the lead character's workplace friends find nothing wrong with a married woman having an affair with the handsome, powerful doctor (or lusting after a hunky bartender).

Taken together, the NBC "Mercy" series, the Ashley Madison ads actually running on CNN, with the tagline "Life is Short, Have an Affair" and Youtube commenters finding the commercials well, thrilling, all point to a cultural inflection point from which there is no escape. Marriage is redefined. Towards a "French" model of infidelity based on the relative attractiveness of the partners (note the Ashley Madison ads have partners more attractive than their spouses cheating).

 
At September 16, 2009 at 10:05 AM , Anonymous cont'd said...

Meanwhile, those selfsame elites, the White Overclass, are still living in the 1950's. With two parent families, perhaps living lives of discreet infidelity, but remaining intact as married partners.

Working class women are moving beyond marriage and "quaint" notions of fidelity and family, to chaotic, short-lived "passionate" romances like that depicted in "Mercy" which certainly allow women (and a few lucky men) the ability to feed a passion for novelty and excitement. Increasingly, middle class (White) women are doing the same. The underclass is functionally the same as Urban Core Blacks, who have illegitimacy rates of 90%. The only reason this collapse excites no commentary is that the White underclass is so small (10%) and "invisible" to media and elites who comprise the media, that their plight excites no comment.

 
At September 16, 2009 at 8:23 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Kelly,

Do you recognize any differences between gay unions and heterosexual ones? And if so, why shouldn't the state recognize that distinction? What I'm getting at is that the state has a vested interest in procreation, and specifically in creating optimum conditions for children to be bred and reared by their natural parents. Forcing everyone to pretend that gay unions are exactly the same as heterosexual ones doesn't help, because it says that procreation doesn't matter (ie. it's saying that procreation isn't a sufficient difference for us to make a distinction between gay and heterosexual marriages).

Yeah, I know that not all heterosexual marriages produce children, but they do have that potential, even if that potential is a long shot in some cases, eg. because of age.

I'm not saying the state shouldn't recognize gay unions (along with related benefits), just that they are sufficiently different from heterosexual unions that the difference ought to be recognized as well.

 
At October 1, 2009 at 11:37 PM , Blogger Fr. Marty Kurylowicz said...

It must be remember that the importance and meaning of marriage is more than procreation. Two people pledging their love to each other is not just for themselves, because that is not marriage. By being in love, two become one and they are better equip to be the best for everyone in world their families, friends, co-workers and beyond. In this way all marriages are contributing to the procreation of children by their enriching the social environment that children will be born into. I think that love; true love like energy is never lost, a bit like Einstein, maybe. – Marty

 
At October 3, 2009 at 6:43 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

Marty,

"It must be remember that the importance and meaning of marriage is more than procreation."

I'm not sure if you were directing this comment at me, but nothing I said contradicts your comment.

I was merely pointing out the importance of procreation. Perhaps I wasn't being clear enough, so let me be quite blunt: we aren't making enough babies. Fertility rates in western countries are well below replacement levels, and we won't be able to make up the shortfall with immigration. Here is an article I found quite instructive:

http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20070528_105313_105313

Here is an exploration of the potential economic fallout:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/05/demographics--depression-1243457089

 
At October 3, 2009 at 7:20 PM , Blogger Fr. Marty Kurylowicz said...

Dan,

Thank you for clarifying your point. I had been reading so much negativity and I misread your comment. I apologize.

Thanks for the links, Marty

 
At October 5, 2009 at 12:44 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

Dan,

You stated: "I know that not all heterosexual marriages produce children, but they do have that potential, even if that potential is a long shot in some cases..."

This is not true: not all heterosexual marriages have the potential to produce children, such as in cases where the woman has had a hysterectomy. In addition, some of that "long shot" potential is made possible only through medical help (e.g., fertility treatment, in-vitro fertilization). Likewise, same-sex couples can conceive, bear and raise children through medical help. In the not-so-distant future, that help may allow a same-sex couple to conceive a child who carries the genetic material of both parents (egg-egg, or sperm-sperm fertilization).

Setting the ability to procreate--or even the ability to procreate unaided--as the criterion for marriage-eligibility would give us an objective standard. It would also exclude many heterosexual couples currently eligible to marry. But no state uses this standard: 44 states currently allow ALL (adult, unrelated) heterosexual couples to marry (regardless of hysterectomies, low sperm counts or age), and no homosexual couples to marry.

I have yet to hear someone elucidate an objective standard that is broad enough to include all heterosexual couples, while simultaneously narrow enough to exclude all homosexual ones. Though I've heard many smart people try (including some very elaborate argumentation by Prof. Robbie George), they all eventually fall back on the "homosexuality is unnatural" trope--which is just another way of saying "I don't like it."

 
At October 5, 2009 at 9:22 PM , Anonymous Dan said...

TommyD,

I get what you're saying, but I think it misses my point (which, admittedly, hasn't been very well elucidated). Let me try again.

1. We all have a vested interest in procreation, both in terms of generating sufficient numbers (see my previous comment) and in terms of the conditions under which children are bred and reared. To the extent that the state represents our collective will, the state has the same vested interest.

2. Children arise naturally from heterosexual unions. I know you would ask me to qualify this by saying "some heterosexual unions" but the state has no practical way of sorting these out.

3. Children's well being is well served if their natural parents are in a stable and loving relationship.

4. Therefore, the state has a vested interest in fostering conditions which give rise to stable heterosexual unions. Traditionally, these unions were called "marriage". Even nowadays, marriages are more stable (on average) than other kinds of union.

5. The above does not preclude state recognition of homosexual unions, but this recognition would serve a different purpose.

6. I don't think it is unreasonable to suggest that this difference ought to be recognized by the state. Doing otherwise would further downplay the importance of procreation in a society that is already facing dangerously low fertility rates.

 

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