by Matt Gates
New Jersey voters are currently deciding whether to vote for Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican Nominee Mitt Romney. However, one issue is not up for the vote this November: NJ voters will not be offered the gay marriage referendum suggested by Republican Governor Chris Christie after he vetoed the legislature’s bill to pass gay marriage.
According to wsj.com, Democrats in the New Jersey Congress did not want the issue of gay marriage to be voted upon because it is a civil rights issue, which they believe should be determined by the legislature rather than the voters.
While the legislature or the courts are the ideal places to legalize gay marriage, given Christie’s veto, the New Jersey Congress should not have refused voters the opportunity to vote on this issue.
Although the Democrats are justifiably concerned about voting on civil rights, they should consider that New Jersey would not be setting a precedent by voting on gay marriage. According to nj.com, 30 states have already put gay marriage on the ballot and every single one has denied gay couples the right to marry.
New Jersey has the chance to become the first state to pass gay marriage through referendum. According to the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, 54 percent of New Jersey voters favor same-sex-marriage while 25 percent are opposed to it. Therefore, it is highly likely that a gay marriage referendum would pass if it were put on the ballot.
Not only would allowing New Jersey voters the chance to legalize gay marriage through referendum send a message that New Jersey, unlike 30 other states, is a place of acceptance and equality, it would also have the practical effect of finally allowing gay couples, many of whom have waited years, to marry.
While civil unions provide gay couples with many of the same rights that straight couples are allotted through marriage, there is still one major right blatantly denied to gay couples: the right to call themselves married before the law. Marriage carries a special connotation and forcing gay couples to accept a lesser term is unacceptable and discriminatory. One must remember the ruling of Brown v Board of Education that “separate but equal is inherently unequal.”
Additionally, because the concept of a civil union is not understood to mean the same thing as marriage, gay couples are often denied the rights promised by a civil union.
For instance, according to huffingtonpost.com, when New Jersey resident John Grant suffered a brain injury in 2010, the hospital refused to allow his male partner to have access to his medical status or authorize a procedure because it was unsure of the rights guaranteed by a civil union.
Additionally, according to the same article, gay couples have reported that obtaining healthcare benefits for one’s partner is far more difficult than obtaining them for one’s spouse.
Considering the significant consequences of not putting gay marriage to the ballot, the Democrats should not have kept gay couples waiting to avoid setting a precedent that already exists.
It is unfortunate that New Jersey will not have the chance to join Maine, Maryland and Washington in voting on gay marriage this November. Both Christie’s veto and the well-intended but poor decision of the New Jersey legislature can be held responsible for the prolonged wait for equality.