Celebrate not tolerate

What to do now that my partner is unemployed and home all day. Every day. Sleep late? Go to the gym? Get my nails done? Get busy with my lady friend in the middle of the day? Nope though that last one would be particularly nice. None of the above bar an aforementioned nap that was a health imperative. I still wake up every morning to make breakfast for the boys. I’m still on the morning carpool shift for pre-school. And, I continue to do laundry which is the only chore related to housewifery that I can bear to do. It’s not to say that all of those things won’t come in time. For now, routine normalcy is key to our transition to life on the dole.

I would like to take advantage of Gabriella’s presence at home, but I’ve got to ease into it. Tonight I dipped my toe in the water and left Gabriella with the boys while I attended the Garden State Equality Town Hall Meeting in South Orange, New Jersey to rally around gay marriage. Steven Goldstein,chair of Garden State Equality (no relation) hosted the evening. Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew, addressed us along with a long list of speakers who hoisted me back in the saddle on a horse called I-DO-give-a-rat’s-ass-and-I-want-to-do-something-about-it. Bear with me as I break from my light-hearted approach to life. I need to step on the soap box tonight, but I promise not to make a habit of it.

I arrived 5 minutes before show time and got the last parking spot available. Activist gays are prompt gays. I sat in a hot, crowded room with 150+ people – gay and straight and everything else in between and otherwise – and listened to all that we are denied. Before the first speaker, we watched the trailer from the Oscar winning documentary, Freeheld – the story of Lieutenant Laurel Hester and her partner Stacie. Laurel Hester was fighting a losing battle with cancer and fighting the law in order to leave her pension benefits to her life partner, Stacie. Stacie would not have been able to keep their house after Laurel’s impending death. After spending a lifetime fighting for justice for other people, Laurel – a veteran New Jersey detective – launched a final battle for justice. With the help of her fellow police officers, their community and Garden State Equality, they won the battle though Laurel passed away before their rights were granted.

Speaker after speaker relayed stories of injustice due to ignorance or, in most cases, refusal to uphold the rights granted by civil union. One woman was prevented from seeing her partner who had been rushed to the ER at a hospital in New Jersey. She got into an argument with the attending physician about whether or not she did, in fact, have the right to any information regarding her partner. Reluctantly, after a lengthy discussion about the law and the definition of civil union, the doctor, we’ll call him Dr. Bellend, gave in and provided her with information about her partner in emergency care.

According to the Garden State Equality website, at least one in five companies deny equal benefits to civil-unioned employees because the companies don’t respect the label “civil union”. To date, Garden State Equality has received complaints from 1,502 people in civil unions stating that their rights have been denied. This represents just under half of all of the civil unions in New Jersey.

Gabriella and I are partners in civil union. In addition to civil union being an impossibly clumsy phrase (are we partners in civil union? civil unionized?), I can’t tell you off the top of my head what that means and what it doesn’t. I know that it is not marriage in name or in federal law. And if I can’t rattle off all the rights that have been incrementally doled out to me by the civil union law in New Jersey, you can only imagine how little the population at large knows or even chooses to know. The few rights it does provide partners in New Jersey are not even upheld by its businesses, unions or service providers. On Wednesday, December 10, The New Jersey Civil Union Commission issued its final report proclaiming what we’ve known all along. The civil union law is a failure, and there is no equality without a marriage equality law.

Until that meeting, I didn’t quibble about the term. Marriage. Civil Union. Domestic Partnership. Coupletude. I didn’t care what you called it as long as everyone received the same rights and benefits. I’ve changed my mind. I do that occasionally. Everyone knows what marriage is and few know what civil union is including them there those who gottem. Semantics matter. I want equality, and I want marriage.

I also want an improved economy. According to Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, if marriage were legalized in New Jersey, the state would receive $19 million in tax revenue. He also estimated that gay marriage would inject $300 million in new commerce so desperately needed by small businesses statewide. And the way these gays would do weddings (and recalling our wedding bill), I consider that to be a conservative estimate.

Harvey Milk predicted equality. He didn’t necessarily know when it would come to pass, but he knew that it would. His nephew Stuart Milk was 17 in 1978 when his uncle was killed. He had just come out. Stuart gave the final address of the evening. Stuart is encouraged by the activism that has risen from the muck of Prop 8. He reminded us of his uncle’s message. Each of us must continue to do as Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Harvey Milk had done and stand up to fear. The fear that prohibited marriage between Asians in the 1950s and blacks and whites until 1967 is the same fear that allows us to deny equality to all our citizens today. Hey, is someone humming “America the Beautiful”? Where was I? Oh yes. There’s work to be done, and we can all do a little something – even if it’s just talking the talk and reminding friends and family that this is a civil rights issue, and we should all be in the business of protecting our civil rights.

In New Jersey? Garden State Equality has prewritten an email to Governor Corzine and legislators for you to send within a matter of seconds. I’ve made it nice and simple for you. CLICK HERE

Thanks to Steven Milk, Naomi Cohen and Gina Patino, Steven Goldstein and Frank Vespa-Papoleo pictured above who were some of the many key speakers working so hard to fight a battle we should all be fighting.

Can someone help me down from this soap box now? Heights make me nauseous, and I’ve got a bunch of legislators to call.

5 thoughts on “Celebrate not tolerate

  1. Deborah,
    I stand beside you on this fight. Just clicked ‘send’ and feel pretty good about myself…you have made it easy to make a difference (even if it is a small one on my part!)at 8:30am on a Saturday morning!

  2. ok – 1) what’s with all of the deleted posts??
    2) i played softball in the city with Laurel – she was very cool and both she and her partner deserved better.
    3) when did gabriella become unemployed??
    4) you can answer my questions via email

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