October 27, 2006

"It's Not Heaven, It's Not Hell, It's Purgatory"

That was the gist of the message from an e-mail distributed by Steven Goldstein, Chairman of the GLBT advocacy group Garden State Equality in regards to the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage.

Here is the text of the message:

Dear LGBTI New Jerseyans and our millions of straight allies across New Jersey:
I'd like to take a moment, if you'll allow, to have a frank discussion about one of the more unique phenomena that emerged from yesterday's decision on marriage equality. We can't recall seeing so many divergent reactions from our community and supporters to any single event. Many of the reactions were diametrically opposed: Some activists and organizations portrayed the decision as "a big win" or "total victory." Other activists and organizations portrayed the decision as all but a loss -- a bad day when we had expected a total win. Still others, most people actually, had a reaction in between.
We're all over the map as a community. It's understandable -- well, at least the opinions in the middle are understandable -- given the complex nature of the ruling. On the one hand, not a single justice said same-sex couples are unworthy of equal protection. On the other hand, we did not get marriage equality, though it's now up to us to make it happen in the legislature within 180 days.
It's not heaven, it's not hell, it's purgatory.
But here's the problem with telling anyone, whether your family, friends or even journalists, that the decision is a victory: It will hurt our efforts to win marriage equality in the next 180 days. It will, I swear to you, it will. But more on that in a moment.
Describing the decision as a victory at this premature juncture is wrong. If we don't win the label "marriage," we will NOT have equal protection under the law. You know this too well from following our e-mails on the late Lieutenant Laurel Hester. Without the label marriage, couples like Lt. Hester and her partner, and scores of others across New Jersey, have been told time and again, "we don't care with the law says, you're not married."
As we've said a million times and we'll say a million times more, marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally accepts. We're not fighting for the label marriage for some moral, ethereal right. We're fighting for the label marriage because it's the only way a gay civil rights law will work in the real world.
And that's what you have to tell everyone you know. Were you to tell folks "it's a win" -- and to be sure, 90 percent of our community and our supporters believe otherwise -- it would tie the hands of those of us at Garden State Equality working every day in Trenton to get a real win: Marriage equality.
Because then legislators would tell us, "You know, we're hearing people call the Supreme Court decision a win. Why are you pressing so hard for marriage then?"
I'll go beyond that point, and this I plead to you with all my heart. A nuanced statement, along the lines of "it's a win, it's not everything we wanted, but it's a win," will still hurt our efforts for marriage equality.
First, such statements would be a lifeline to legislators whom we have got to win over. People hear what they want to hear, particularly legislators looking for an excuse not to do the right thing. They'll grasp onto the clause in a nuanced sentence that gives them an out.
Second, the art of political communications tells us that both the general public and the power-elites, from the press to public officials to others who hold our fate in their hands, don't process nuanced statements well.
If you tell someone, "the decision is a win, but blah, blah, blah," you can bet the "blah, blah, blah" caveat won't be processed and/or reported. People will only hear the headline, i.e. "It's a win." And that would devastate our efforts.
It would lead to reactions like this: "Well, I just read that someone in your community called this a win, I don't understand why you're now saying it's not. Sounds like this civil unions idea is a sensible solution."
Friends, we have 180 days to win 100% marriage equality in the state legislature, as the Supreme Court ruled. I personally plead with you, with every bone and fiber in my body -- and I'm joined by thousands of others at Garden State Equality -- that even if part of you thinks it this was a win in the context of history, it's not what your message should be at this most sensitive, pressure-filled time.
The bottom line is this: Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally accepts. Anything short of marriage equality deprives LGBTI families of the equal protection they so desperately need. Contraptions short of marriage, like civil unions and domestic partnerships, do not provide that protection, as we've learned through the New Jersey experience. Thus we do not have a win yet.
But we're going to work our hearts out to make that happen within 180 days. We're counting on you to be by our side.
Thanks for listening, as it were. All of us at Garden State Equality appreciate you from the heart.
Warmly, Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality

From the other side, Matt Daniels, the president of "Alliance for (Straight) Marriage," continues to run his mouth in the mainstream media. This quote from the New York Times, which he was kind enough to distritute by e-mail:

New Jersey's highest court ruled on Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual couples, but ordered the Legislature to decide whether their unions must be called marriage or could be known by another name. But conservative groups opposed to same-sex marriage blasted the ruling as an example of the justices essentially trading judicial robes for legislative pens. ''The court is holding a legal gun to the head of the State Legislature, and saying, 'Listen, there are two bullets, you get to pick the bullet: either gay marriage or civil unions,' '' said Matt Daniels president of Alliance for Marriage, an organization based in the Washington area that supports a federal Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. ''And that is not democracy. That is court-imposed policy-making that takes this out of the hands of the people.''

That's right, the courts took marriage away from being strictly in the hands of straight couples and allow same-sex couples, in some form, to share in it.

No comments:

Post a Comment