Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NJ Court Grants Civil Unions

More accurately, the New Jersey Supreme Court has found that the denial of "the rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee", and has ordered the state legislature to amend marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or "create a parallel statutory structure." Some excerpts from the opinion, highlighted by the above ACSBlog post, details how utterly normal these gay couples are, and how utterly they have been denied dignified treatment by current law:

In terms of the value they place on family, career, and community service, plaintiffs lead lives that are remarkably similar to those of opposite-sex couples. Alicia Toby and Saundra Heath, who reside in Newark, have lived together for seventeen years and have children and grandchildren. Alicia is an ordained minister in a church where her pastoral duties include coordinating her church’s HIV prevention program. Saundra works as a dispatcher for Federal Express.

Mark Lewis and Dennis Winslow reside in Union City and have been together for fourteen years. They both are pastors in the Episcopal Church. In their ministerial capacities, they have officiated at numerous weddings and signed marriage certificates, though their own relationship cannot be similarly sanctified under New Jersey law. When Dennis’s father was suffering from a serious long-term illness, Mark helped care for him in their home as would a devoted son-in-law.

Diane Marini and Marilyn Maneely were committed partners for fourteen years until Marilyn’s death in 2005. The couple lived in Haddonfield, where Diane helped raise, as though they were her own, Marilyn’s five children from an earlier marriage. Diane’s mother considered Marilyn her daughter-in-law and Marilyn’s children her grandchildren. The daily routine of their lives mirrored those of “other suburban married couples [their] age.” Marilyn was a registered nurse. Diane is a businesswoman who serves on the planning board in Haddonfield, where she is otherwise active in community affairs.

. . .The seeming ordinariness of plaintiffs’ lives is belied by the social indignities and economic difficulties that they daily face due to the inferior legal standing of their relationships compared to that of married couples. Without the benefits of marriage, some plaintiffs have had to endure the expensive and time-consuming process of cross-adopting each other’s children and effectuating legal surname changes. Other plaintiffs have had to contend with economic disadvantages, such as paying excessive health insurance premiums because employers did not have to provide coverage to domestic partners, not having a right to “family leave” time, and suffering adverse inheritance tax consequences.

When some plaintiffs have been hospitalized, medical facilities have denied privileges to their partners customarily extended to family members. For example, when Cindy Meneghin contracted meningitis, the hospital’s medical staff at first ignored her pleas to allow her partner Maureen to accompany her to the emergency room. After Marcye Nicholson-McFadden gave birth to a son, a hospital nurse challenged the right of her partner Karen to be present in the newborn nursery to view their child. When Diane Marini received treatment for breast cancer, medical staff withheld information from her partner Marilyn “that would never be withheld from a spouse or even a more distant relative.” Finally, plaintiffs recount the indignities, embarrassment, and anguish that they as well as their children have suffered in attempting to explain their family status.

The option of course remains for the state of New Jersey to amend their Constitution (via ACSBlog) to explicitly deny gays the rights of marriage:
The short of it is that it takes either (1) a 3/5 vote in each of the state houses, followed by a majority vote of the people, or (2) a majority vote of both houses in two consecutive legislative years, followed by a majority vote of the people. In other words, New Jersey is in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to the ease or difficulty of amending the state constitution. Harder than some, easier than others.

As you may recall, Texas has already passed just such an amendment.

Of course, there are still those who persist in seeing the issue of gay marriage as one to be dealt with by the legislature, and not by the courts. This is wrong-headed. First, it is not possible to believe that the Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right of people to marry, and yet argue that, as far as gays are concerned, there is no "right" to marriage. People who read Supreme Court opinions closely will aruge that the right of heterosexuals to marry is "fundamental", whereas the right of gays to marry has been non-existent throughout history. This is a distinction without a difference. As restrictive cultural beliefs have become dated, so the Court has struck down restrictions of marriage premised on those beliefs. Second, where fundamental rights exist, it is the job-no, the duty-of the courts to uphold them. That the upholding of a right is controversial, that the upholding of a right is something that a majority of people would prefer not to see, does not mean that it is a right that should be created and enforced solely by statute, at the whim of a hostile majority that controls the levers of power.

The people of New Jersey would be sorely mistaken to adopt a disciminatory amendment that bans gay marriage and undos the progress of this decision. Gay marriage-or civil unions-have existed in several states and many countries for several years now, and civilization persists. Constitutions, of the state or the United States, do not exist to limit rights. They exist to confer them, and this decision comports with the general trend towards the legalization of gay marriage in our country. I support it, and you should too.

3 comments:

Nat-Wu said...

For the most part, polygamy has been universally accepted throughout the world and throughout history. Why does the court insist on blocking polygamy when it's a "traditional" form of marriage, assuming that that's actually the rationale for denying gay marriage? The answer is that it's not about what's traditional, it's about what makes a large segment of our populace uncomfortable. And to me, that's not any reason to deny any people the same rights as everyone else.

I'd like to point out the utter stupidity of those who claim that marriage is traditionally "one man, one woman". Throughout history, even Christian history, marriage was not always such. A large part of the world conforms to this ideal, true, but a large part doesn't. Take the Islamic world, and people who aren't Westernized (like certain Indians of South America). To them, the "one man, one woman" (with the implication that it's for life) ideal would be ridiculous. There are even systems where a woman marries several brothers, or vice-versa. These are ancient systems in their own right, even if not widely practiced. Doesn't that fit the definitiono of "traditional" in the sense that right-wingers keep talking about? Of course, you can't expect Americans to know jack about how other people live, or how people lived in the past.

Honestly, I'm old-fashioned too. I don't see a gay partnership as being the same thing as my marriage, but then, I don't feel the need to impose my will on these people simply because what they do seems strange to me. I don't eat curry, but I'm not about to pass a law keeping other people from doing it! It's not my right to do that to anyone. And that's what this is about: equal rights for equal people. Once upon a time we used to have laws based on the color of people's skin, and these days we find that idea repulsive and ignorant. Some day, the law will find that we can't strip someone of their basic rights because of who they choose to sleep with. Americans claim to love their country because it's the land of the free and the home of the brave. Well, there are plenty of brave people here still struggling for their freedom. We shouldn't stand in their way.

Fan Boy said...

First, we are not trying to legislate the traditionality of other cultures, just ours.

Secondly, while your history is correct about Christian marriage their is a difference between that history and the modern history that has taken place since before the foundations of this society were set.

Thirdly, Islam allows multiple marriages, but it is for life. Further more those wives must allbe treated equally under Islamic law. You've not only shown impunity towards Christian tradition but also Islamic tradition in one fair swoop.

Fourth, we are tired of your American bashing. While it is true that some Americans are not familiar with as many other cultures as they are of ours, it is categorically wrong to lump all of us in this theory of stupidity you have on American outlooks.

Lastly, what was done by currently reigning cultures outside of American History both before our country was formed and in modern history should bare no weight on this argument. We are trying to find what is best for our culture during our time, not anyone elses in any other period.

You don't understand the connectivity of this issue to faith based organizations on a legal scale.

I strongly believe in the seperation of Church and State, the State is not always as obliging to that rule as they should be.

That said you have many faith based people against this initiative. It is not because they don't want to extend someone elses rights, they don't want theirs taken away.

Judicialy speaking there are several faith based communities in litigation for administration of the doctrines of their faith. In one example a community is being sued in Federal court for following the tenants of how to deal with unrepented sin when it is presented.

The State is meddling in Churches judicially, the passage of this bill is feared for that reason. It is not the fear of what Gays and Lesbians will do except in the most mindless, it is how it will affect the Church's ability in this country like any other organization with voluntary membership when they say certain criteria must be made to hold offices, attend meetings, and pledge resources.

This is about not loosing our rights to stand on our priniciple while giving someone the right to stand on theirs.

I am for Gay couples being afforded equal rights. I said in the past the reason why this was not passing is because everyone was calling it marriage still. NJ is the first to offer alternative language that is non binding to marriage.

Nat-Wu said...

"First, we are not trying to legislate the traditionality of other cultures, just ours."

That's the problem: some people (I don't know if you agree) think they can tell all Americans how to live because we are supposed to have one culture. We have never had this one culture, therefore this argument is misleading and wrong. The idea that "one man, one woman" (OMOW) has been the only standard practiced by Americans is demonstrably wrong. Therefore, how can you argue that OMOW is "traditional" for every person in America? And if it is not, then what tradionality are you arguing for? It must be your own which you wish to enforce on others.

"Secondly, while your history is correct about Christian marriage their is a difference between that history and the modern history that has taken place since before the foundations of this society were set."

Ah, so now "tradition" is only what is commonly accepted as having been the standard after the US was founded, but only for the Christian people. In that case, why don't Christians just regulate themselves and leave everyone else alone? But you're wrong about that anyway, which point I'll talk about in a second.

"Thirdly, Islam allows multiple marriages, but it is for life. Further more those wives must allbe treated equally under Islamic law. You've not only shown impunity towards Christian tradition but also Islamic tradition in one fair swoop."

And you didn't notice that I was talking not only about Islam but rather traditions from across the world at all times? Nothing will be universally true for all of them. And your characterization is simplistic anyway. In some cultures that practice Islam, it is acceptable for a man to treat his wives quite differently, and even in some cases kill ones he is displeased with. In some Islamic traditions it is also quite acceptable for a man to beat and even maim his wives. But that's the Taliban, not Iraq. It would be wrong to equate the two, just as it's wrong to say that all Christian cultures define marriage the same way.

"Fourth, we are tired of your American bashing. While it is true that some Americans are not familiar with as many other cultures as they are of ours, it is categorically wrong to lump all of us in this theory of stupidity you have on American outlooks."

If we're going to do personal attacks, I remind you that you have just demonstrated your ignorance about other cultures. It is a fair point that the vast majority of Americans have no idea what Qatar is nor where it is nor how to spell it, much less how those people live and what kind of culture they have. Americans are vastly ignorant when it comes to other people because our society is so narcissistic. If you don't believe that that is a substantial difference between us and other countries, you should take a look at how many foreign movies Americans watch, or are even released in America compared to how many American movies are released and watched in other nations. Before you make the point that that is simply because we make more, India alone makes just as many, but how many Indian movies do we ever see in mainstream theaters here? But most of them have watched and do watch American movies. And that's just one case, but the same happens in every way. American restaurants go to other countries, but theirs don't come here, etc, etc.

"Lastly, what was done by currently reigning cultures outside of American History both before our country was formed and in modern history should bare no weight on this argument. We are trying to find what is best for our culture during our time, not anyone elses in any other period."

That is absolutely a lie, and I'm calling you on it. Everywhere I look the first argument that is brought up by right-wingers is that OMOW is the one and only form of legitimate marriage throughout history and the world, in all times and places. Their argument is exactly that gay marriage cannot be legitimate because no one has ever accepted it. Furthermore, as Xanthippas can tell you, when the US Supreme Court looks to historical precedent, they look to usages from before the founding of US law and common practices outside the US. As a legal argument, historical precedent is quite legitimate, even if it comes from before the US existed. Again, you're trying to force what's best for your culture on everyone else regardless of what culture they belong to.

"You don't understand the connectivity of this issue to faith based organizations on a legal scale.

I strongly believe in the seperation of Church and State, the State is not always as obliging to that rule as they should be.

That said you have many faith based people against this initiative. It is not because they don't want to extend someone elses rights, they don't want theirs taken away.

Judicialy speaking there are several faith based communities in litigation for administration of the doctrines of their faith. In one example a community is being sued in Federal court for following the tenants of how to deal with unrepented sin when it is presented.

The State is meddling in Churches judicially, the passage of this bill is feared for that reason. It is not the fear of what Gays and Lesbians will do except in the most mindless, it is how it will affect the Church's ability in this country like any other organization with voluntary membership when they say certain criteria must be made to hold offices, attend meetings, and pledge resources.

This is about not loosing our rights to stand on our priniciple while giving someone the right to stand on theirs."

Bullshit. That's the same bullshit conservatives have been peddling for decades to restrict the rights of others. Like, for example, the rights of Whites to live free from Blacks. Don't tell me it's different; that would be a lie and you know it. It's the exact same thing: a group of people doesn't like how another group lives and so they want to force them not to live that way. You know damn well a gay person can't come in and sue a church because the church won't have them. They may try to bring suit, but you know it would fail. Nobody has the right to force a church to have a specific doctrine. If that was the case, you wouldn't have seen the Episcopal church start splitting; someone would have taken the other side to court for what they could or couldn't preach.

The problem is the exact reverse of what you claim; the church is meddling in the state so much that any time the state passes a law the religious nuts come out saying that it's legislating the church. Just get back in your churches and do what you want and nobody will bother you. Quit trying to bring what's inside that church out of it. That is, quit it unless you want Muslims doing the same thing and making your wife run around with a scarf on her head.

How about this: gay people have no right to a marriage in your church, but you do. However, neither of you can get "married" by the state. The only power the state has over you is to regulate contracts, not personal affairs. What you and a gay person get from the state is legal rights to your spouse or partner. Then, they can go to a church that allows gay marriages and get "married". Their "marriage" won't be legitimate in your eyes as a Christian, because God would never allow that. But their civil rights would be equal, which is what most of us want. You'd be free to scoff at their pretend marriage and know they're going to hell anyway, and they'd be free to get benefits and both be listed as parents to their children. Everybody's happy.