Despite the challenges ahead, advocates of gay marriage within the Jewish community were undeterred after the Senate failed to pass its marriage equality bill last week.
The Senate voted 20-14 last Thursday against the bill, which proponents were trying to push through before Gov. Jon Corzine, who had promised to sign it, leaves office next week. Governor-elect Chris Christie has stated his opposition to gay marriage.
“Our side is going back to court to win marriage equality,” said Steven Goldstein, a Teaneck resident who heads Garden State Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group, during a press conference after the vote. “We are not waiting out the term of any new administration to bring equality to same-sex couples in our state.”
Goldstein pointed to a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that directed the legislature to create legislation for gay marriage or another structure that provides the equal protection of marriage.
Garden State Equality has partnered with Lambda Legal, an organization involved in gay rights litigation across the country, to bring a lawsuit against the state to enforce the 2006 decision. A suit would be forthcoming in a matter of weeks, Goldstein told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.
Goldstein, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, said that the issue has support from 19 religious denominations, include three branches of Judaism.
“I’m personally gratified,” he said. “It means so much to me as a leader who is both gay and Jewish.”
The Reform and Reconstructionist movements support gay marriage, while the Conservative movement passed opposing views two years ago, both of which are valid opinions for the movement’s rabbis. The Orthodox movement remains against the issue.
“It is true that the Orthodox Jewish community by and large opposes marriage equality,” he said. “I respect that point of view. But the vast majority of Jewish residents across New Jersey back marriage equality.”
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of the Orthodox Cong. Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn told the Standard that the bill’s defeat is “a positive phenomenon not just for the Jewish people but the entire state of New Jersey.”
“It’s a victory for morality and morality is good for the state,” he said, declining further comment.
Rabbi Randall Mark of the Conservative Cong. Shomrei Torah in Wayne is not opposed to gay marriage, but he’s not an activist for it, either.
“As a liberal rabbi, I think that it is reasonable for people who adopt a gay or lesbian lifestyle to be able to marry,” he said, “but I also recognize we live in a complex society and change happens slowly and often painfully.”
In 2006, New Jersey passed a law recognizing civil unions. Garden State Equality has said civil unions do not provide the same legal benefits or protections as marriage and that by the end of July 2007, 211 of the 1,358 couples who had entered civil unions since the law’s enactment had reported that their employers would not recognize the unions, denying them spousal insurance benefits.
“Many of the couples I’ve worked with have realized after the fact that civil union isn’t marriage,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brickman of Temple Beth-El in Jersey City, which is Reform. “That name for their relationship carries a lot of weight. Not having that title available for their use is clearly a disadvantage.”
Brickman is intimately familiar with the rights Garden State Equality is fighting for. In 2006, Brickman’s domestic partner died, leaving him in a legal entanglement.
“We lived together for 22 years in a committed relationship, and when he passed away in 2006, I had to go through the process of not only grieving his death but also dealing with financial implications of not being able to claim him as a spouse,” he said.
“Federal and state government looked at our relationship as nonexistent,” he added, “despite the fact that we lived with as much integrity as heterosexual couples do.”
As Garden State Equality prepares to take gay marriage to the court system, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the prime sponsor behind the marriage equality bill, said she was optimistic. “We’ve helped build enough of a record of people on all sides of this issue saying civil unions do not work,” she said.
Despite Christie’s promises to seek a federal ban on gay marriage, Weinberg was positive the courts would impose a favorable decision. “Once the court makes a decision, it will automatically become law,” she said.
Brickman and Goldstein both stressed that they respect their colleagues who oppose same-sex marriage, and they both noted that no member of the clergy would be forced to perform a ceremony he or she is uncomfortable with. “That was a scare tactic used by the opponents to this law,” Brickman said.
“It’s a matter of fairness,” Brickman said. “Jews have always been at the forefront of fights when there’s a matter of fairness on the line. In any situation where a society is treating people unfairly, we need to be at the forefront of correcting that.”