New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize marriage equality on Monday, and it appears marriages will continue unhindered by further legal challenges. The road to this victory was paved by Catholics on both sides, and could be indicative of future Catholic influences.
Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, ended his appeal in the state’s Supreme Court against the late September ruling by Judge Mary Jacobson, also a Catholic, that legalized same-gender marriages. According to Christie, the Court’s previous denial of his request to forestall marriage licenses until the appeal was heard was evidence enough that marriage equality would be upheld on appeal.
While the governor promised to uphold the law, he also criticized the judicial means through which the state achieved equal marriage rights. As Bondings 2.0 previously noted, Christie is a 2016 presidential hopeful and is walking the Republican tight-rope around marriage equality. He emphasized the issue should still be put to New Jersey voters.
Jacobson’s was the first state court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June. The move extended hundreds of tax, medical and other legal benefits to same-sex couples, but only in states that provided them “lawful marriages.” As a state which had civil unions but not full marriage for same-gender couples, New Jersey was left out of reaping these benefits, the Supreme Court ruled.
New Ways Ministry‘s supporters in New Jersey have welcomed the news of marriage equality coming to the state. Melina Waldo, the mother of a gay son, stated:
“Marriage equality has triumphed in New Jersey after many years of hard work by gay and lesbian people and their supporters. We suffered defeats and disappointments along the way and strong opposition from the Catholic hierarchy as well as a veto by governor Christie. Although the bishops did their utmost to hold back the tide of equality, the Catholic people never wavered in their support. In fact, the percentage of Catholic people who support marriage equality has risen steadily as the years went by. Not an insignificant factor in heavily Catholic New Jersey.
“I am so happy for all our gay and lesbian residents of New Jersey, particularly for young people like my friend John who testified at the state senate at least twice. His testimony ended with the lament that he felt like a second-class citizen in his own state.
“For me the journey to marriage equality began years ago when my friends Diane Marini and Marilyn Maneeley asked me to accompany them to the Borough Hall in our town where they were going to apply for a marriage license. They were among seven couples chosen by Lambda Legal to sue the state of New Jersey for the right to marry. When the clerk politely refused their request, we walked out and the lawsuit began.
“So for us it is a time to rejoice but a sad time as well because Marilyn did not live to see the results of her courageous effort to reach this happy conclusion. She would be so pleased for all those who will benefit in the future. “
Dugan McGinley, a lecturer in Catholic Studies at Rutgers University and the author of Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts, said:
“I am awestruck when I think how far we have come in such a short amount of time. When we were organizing to make LGBT Catholic concerns visible during the papal visit to Denver 20 years ago, who would have thought that by 2013, fourteen states would have legalized same-sex marriage?!
“It is gratifying to be receiving congratulatory notes from friends on this occasion, but we have all played a role in this success. I am grateful to every LGBT person who has had the courage to be open with someone else about their identity. The biggest difference we all can make is being visible so that people see that laws and theology about sex and gender affect real people.”
While it is already known that large majorities of US Catholics support marriage equality, of note in New Jersey is the respectful acceptance even Catholics opposed to LGBT rights have shown. It is clear that Catholics in government, like Judge Jacobson and Governor Christie, are acting in a spirit of authentic religious liberty by separating their personal views from those demands required of them by civil law. In addition, fellow parishioners at Judge Jacobson’s parish spoke to NJ.com with a moderated opposition:
“McKillup and several other St. Mary parishioners interviewed after Mass said they believed in the separation of church and state, and that it was understandable Jacobson might view an issue differently from the bench than from a pew…
“St. Mary’s parishioner and choir member Barbara Paige said she shared the Catholic Church’s official view that marriage is between a man and a woman. But putting herself in Jacobson’s shoes, Paige said she did not fault the judge for ruling in favor of marriage equality…
“Another parishioner at St. Mary, Ben Barsolona, said he was opposed to same-sex marriage. But Barsolona, 55, said he did not fault Jacobson for the ruling, and he sympathized with gay couples and individuals.”
With New Jersey, one-third of US states now have equal marriage rights and this number should grow soon. Personal opposition remains in many Catholics, but perhaps beliefs promoted by the bishops that marriage equality will create social ills or threaten the Church’s well-being are being discarded as they are proven false. While work remains in the Church to create broader acceptance of LGBT people and their families, could New Jersey signal an ending to Catholic political opposition against equal rights?
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry