Same-sex couples ready for
By Bob Considine, Courier News (www.c-n.com),
Feb. 18, 2007
At the stroke of
midnight tonight at City Hall in Lambertville, a handful of
same-sex couples are expected to take the first steps toward
formalizing their partnership in New Jersey.
Since they live a stone's throw outside of town, Lee Rosenfield
and Jack Fastag won't be there to begin their own paperwork for
the first civil unions in the state. But they will be
there as witnesses and supporters because this moment will hit
close to home in other ways.
"We just want to be there for an historic moment," Rosenfield
said. "I definitely appreciate the excitement around it
and people wanting to be there the minute it becomes legal."
Monday marks the first day same-sex couples can fill out
applications for a civil union license in New Jersey.
Since it is Presidents Day, a state holiday, Lambertville Mayor
David DelVecchio decided to appease those couples who have
waited long enough for the legalization of their union by
opening the town offices from midnight to 1 a.m.
They're doing the same in Maplewood and in Asbury Park, where
one city worker cleverly labeled the occasion "Precedents Day."
"I think it's important," DelVecchio said, "to send a message
that you're going to be supportive of the new rules. And
But while grateful for the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision
in October to allow same-sex couples to form unions that carry
the benefits of marriage, some in the community feel that it
should simply be called marriage.
At the same time, gay marriage opponents are lobbying lawmakers
to let New Jersey voters to decide whether marriage should be
defined as a union between a man and a woman. The language
of love may only become more distorted 72 hours after the first
civil union applications are filled and filed -- the same amount
of time that buffers the completion of a marriage license and a
"It's nice to know that we're moving forward and the state of
New Jersey is a progressive state that doesn't want to
discriminate," said Gina Genovese, a Long Hill Township
committee member who was, last year, the first openly gay mayor
in New Jersey. "But if you look throughout history,
marriage has always had some discrimination around it.
It's always been a control issue. We are being recognized
by in the state of New Jersey, but that's not to say we
shouldn't have the word marriage."
Lambertville residents Dr. Elizabeth Recupero and her partner,
Judy Levinson, received their civil union in Vermont in 2000.
Five years later, Recupero was honorably discharged from the
U.S. Military for violating the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't
Tell" policy. Recupero said she and the Servicemembers
Legal Defense Network had to fight tooth and nail over the
five-year investigation just to get word "honorable" on her
So forgive Recupero if she sees the words "civil union" and
"marriage" as something more than semantics -- especially with
growing momentum for a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
policy during a continued time of war.
"I think it will be overturned," Recupero said. "But it
kind of ticks me off that we'll be giving gays equal rights in
the military, but not under contracted marriage. I would
like the word changed to marriage. If not, you've already
reduced it. Or it should be that heterosexuals have civil
unions and religious marriages. If people are caught up
with the idea that marriage should be between men and women,
then keep it within the church and keep church and state
Civil unions are not observed by the federal government and
other states are not obliged to recognize them either under the
Defense of Marriage Act.
"It needs to be equal across the board and that's what is
infuriating to me," Recupero added.
The differences between marriage and civil union start on the
application. The word "wedding" is replaced by the word
"ceremony," for example, on one of the notes on the civil union
form. The omission of the word "marriage" also creates
complications for workers with health benefits. Depending
on the company and its insurance program, some have provisions
for married spouses. Some even have conditions for
registered domestic partners, for which there are more than
4,500 in New Jersey.
But a civil union is something entirely new, different and yet
to be observed.
"It's very clear that are questions that will have to play out,"
said Laura Pople, president of the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay
Coalition. "We know people who are interested in having a
civil union but are hesitant because they don't know what it
means in terms of getting benefits from their employers.
There are some real concerns on how it will play out."
Adoption and immigration issues are also expected to play out
for many couples under civil unions, rather than marriage.
Even treatment at hospitals and private institutions that give
privileges to married people may differ for those under a civil
union. Genovese, who witnessed oral arguments for and
against civil unions in New Jersey Supreme Court, said there
will be continued efforts to address legal issues brought about
by civil unions, however.
"Within this bill, there's a provision that the state is going
to look at how things are going every six months," she said.
"There are things that aren't going to work right, right away."
A new opposition
Most in the gay and lesbian community are grateful that Gov. Jon
S. Corzine signed civil unions into law on Dec. 14, and are
optimistic that their civil unions will eventually be observed
"New Jersey is pretty close to a dream," said Steven Goldstein,
chairman of Garden State Equality. "I feel we're likely to
get real marriage equality in the next couple of years."
Gay marriage opponents sense that progression as well, although
they're not nearly as happy about it. A newly formed
assembly of church leaders and activists called The Trenton
Group launched a petition drive on Monday calling for New Jersey
voters to have the decision on whether marriage should be
defined as a union between a man and a woman.
"We just can't sit on the sidelines and be poo-pooed by the
governor and our legislative leaders without letting people have
a voice in this," said Len Deo, president of the New Jersey
Family Policy Council.
The Trenton Group's goal is to get enough signatures for the
Legislature to consider a state constitutional amendment that
would prevent the state Supreme Court or future legislature from
legalizing same-sex marriages.
Sixty percent of each house of the Legislature would need to
approve the proposed amendment by next August -- or the question
could appear on the November 2008 ballot if both houses pass it
A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,392 voters, released in
December, found that New Jersey residents oppose same-sex
marriage, 50 to 44 percent. But it also showed they
opposed amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriages, 58
to 37 percent.
Nontheless, the Trenton Group believes the state Supreme Court
went beyond interpreting the Constitution with its decision to
allow civil unions last year.
"We're very concerned with what's been happening in Trenton,"
Deo said. "We believe the majority of New Jerseyans feel
how we feel."
The gay and lesbian community, however, also appears ready to
fight -- and spread the word of its recent successes in New
Jersey elsewhere. At 7p.m. Tuesday, it will highlight its
own Civil Unions/Momentum to Marriage week by "Crossing the
Delaware to Progress," a short walk along the New Hope,
Pa.-Lambertville bridge to commemorate where they have been and
where they're going.
"The Delaware River might as well be 1,000 miles wide in terms
of how Pennsylvania and New Jersey treat gay people," Goldstein
"New Jersey has one of the best sets of gay rights laws in the
country," he added. "Pennsylvania does not even have a law
that outlaws discrimination against gay people. It's
astonishing. We're just thrilled that Lambertville is
taking the lead."