CommunityPam's House Blend

New Jersey: 'A Governor's potential legacy to civil rights history'

Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality has posted a powerful piece at NJ.com’s “NJ Voices on the major LGBT civil rights accomplishments of Governor Jon Corzine.

When United Parcel service didn’t grant spousal equivalent benefits to same-sex couples in a civil union because they legally are not “spouses” (gay couples married in Massachusetts are and thus receive UPS benefits), Corzine on his own wrote a letter to UPS that motivated the company to alter its policy.

Steven received a call from a friend in the Corzine Admin that sums up “why aren’t you happy yet?” crowd. The friend told him:

“Look, no one’s disputing that there are problems with the civil unions law. I know you’re focused on winning marriage equality. But couldn’t you have given us a little more credit in the press for what we achieved with UPS?”

Corzine does deserve credit for stepping up to the plate, as Steven acknowledges — we have an ally in the popular (64% approval) governor:

Heck, I could write a press release on how much I love this Governor, but I probably did that a few years ago. I worked for him in his 2000 U.S. Senate campaign. And knowing this Governor as I do, that’s precisely why I look for more. He’s not going all the way in the fight for equality for LGBT people. And it’s not like that big-hearted and profoundly decent man not to go all the way in fighting for anyone’s equality.

Corzine has the political capital to do the right thing, there’s no reason he cannot advocate for full equality under the law. Civil unions have proven not to be equal, as Steven notes after the jump.

Just how short of equality is the civil unions law? Last week the state reported that 1,514 couples got civil unioned in the first six months of the law. As of today, 246 couples have come to Garden State Equality to report that their employers won’t recognize their civil unions, with no let-up after the embarrassment to UPS.

That failure rate – one in every 6.3 cases – encompasses only the complaints received by us at Garden State Equality. Lambda Legal reports it has received more than 100 complaints. Who knows how much higher the failure might really be? How many couples are afraid to come forth because they fear reprisals from their employers? Many couples have told us they refuse to file a complaint with state government for that reason precisely.

As the rate of compliance with New Jersey’s civil unions law gets worse, clearly the problem is not that companies have to get used to the law. It’s that the civil unions law, which is supposed to provide equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples, mandates them for only 49 percent of gay couples. You read correctly: The civil unions law does not apply to 51 percent of civil-unioned couples living in the state.

Corzine supports civil unions, but he has said that if the NJ legislature passes a bill establishing  marriage equality he would sign it. His reticence to publicly endorse equality is that he doesn’t want it to be a divisive issue for Garden State residents.

As you know, last week, Garden State Equality released the results of a Zogby poll that showed 63% of New Jersey voters support full marriage equality if the legislature chose to move to upgrade civil unions. These numbers suggest that the people have decided that heterosexual marriage will when the civil institution is opened to gay and lesbian couples. The Massachusetts example has proven this.

Corzine and the legislature don’t need political cover to take his support to the next level — the cover is already there. The poll also showed that 72% say state legislators would be in no electoral danger if they enacted marriage equality.

The bottom line? That regardless of the arguments by activists on either side of the issue, including Garden State Equality, most people in our great state don’t give a damn about the issue. As diverse as views on marriage equality might be, a massive majority believes that if Governor Corzine and the legislature decide the civil unions law is broken, it’s quite all right for the Governor and legislators to enact a marriage equality law. We the people have other things to worry about.

…Governor Corzine, the people of our extraordinarily progressive state are giving permission to you and the legislature to do the correct thing. Governors like Eliot Spitzer in New York and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts know that civil unions will never do the trick, can never provide equality, and that’s why they support marriage equality so strongly.

In your heart, Governor, in your huge heart that makes you one of the most courageous and compassionate people I’ve ever known, you surely know that, too.

Go read the rest. It’s a wonderful post. Thanks for letting me share some of it, Steven.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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