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Gay New Jersey couples seek marriage rights

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Marriage Activists fretting the coming of Christie-NJ

Fearful that Chris Christie’s victory in last week’s gubernatorial race sidelines "marriage equality" in New Jersey for at least four years, same-sex marriage advocates throughout the state are urging legislators to pass a same-sex marriage bill before Gov. Jon Corzine leaves office.

Their effort is not likely to come without a fight.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), emboldened by last week’s election in Maine, where voters narrowly rejected a state law that would have allowed gay couples to wed, vows to fight any attempt to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality (GSE), rallied his troops on the third floor of a Bloomfield Avenue office building the night after last week’s election, in what was dubbed an "emergency meeting" to discuss the future of same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

Standing on a chair in the middle of a conference room packed with supporters, Goldstein said "all stars" in the Legislature – including state Senators Dick Codey and Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Roberts – are on the side of same-sex marriage advocates, even if the governor-elect is not.

"We have about two-and-a-half months to win marriage equality," Goldstein said. "It’s not over."

More than 100 same-sex marriage supporters appeared at the rally, including numerous teenagers and younger children. Justine Appel, 16, a Montclair High School junior, said it’s necessary for young people "to stand up" and fight for the civil rights of all citzens.

Christie’s election makes the fight more urgent, Appel said.

"It’s now or never," she said.

Maggie Gallagher, president of NOM, contends Maine voters’ decision in last week’s election to reject same-sex marriage "blasted a hole in the narrative" that public opinion is shifting in the direction of gay marriage advocates. Quite the contrary, Gallagher told The Times.

Christie has vowed to veto any same-sex marriage legislation, a promise Gallagher expects him to keep. Any attempt to approve gay marriage before he takes office is a sign that GSE and its supporters do not trust New Jersey voters, she said.

"That’s about getting it as far from an election as they possibly can," said Gallagher.

Montclair is represented in the state Assembly by Thomas Giblin and Sheila Oliver, and in the state Senate by Nia Gill, all Democrats. Giblin did not respond to a request for comment, while Oliver said she supports giving Corzine a same-sex marriage bill to sign before he leaves office. Gill is the co-sponsor, with Weinburg, of a same-sex marriage bill that she wants signed into law, one of Gill’s aides told The Times.

Despite Maine’s election results, popular opinion in the United States is shifting toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, according to a study by two Columbia University professors and published in August by the American Political Science Review. The analysis finds that since 1994, all 50 states have seen an increase in public support for gay marriage.

In 1994, public support for gay marriage ranged from 12 percent in Utah to 36 percent in New York. In 2008, Utah was still last, with only 17 percent support, and leading with 56 percent was California, where, ironically, voters that year approved amending the state Constitution to define marriage as "between a man and a woman."

Nearly 50 percent of New Jersey residents in 2008 supported gay marriage, up from 27 percent in 1994, according to the study.

Gina Pastino of Montclair has been with her partner, Naomi Cohen, for 15 years. The two became civil-union partners when that law went into effect two years ago. They have two children, Sophia, 6, and Griffin, 3.

Pastino, 41, one the 100-plus attendees of last week’s GSE meeting, told The Times that the limitations of civil unions became apparent when she was hospitalized last year. An emergency-room doctor would not share information about her status with Cohen, regardless of their legal relationship, noted Pastino.

Legalizing same-sex marriage would solve that problem, she said.

"If you tell someone you’re in a civil union, people ask what that is," Pastino said. "People know what marriage is."

Contact Terrence T. McDonald at