Friday, December 22, 2006

Same-sex civil unions in New Jersey are a good thing

In fifty-nine days a law goes into effect in the Garden State that will give same-sex couples in civil unions all of the benefits, protections, and responsibilities of married couples. This includes the right not to testify against one's partner in trials, hospital-visitation rights, and over eight hundred other rights formerly reserved exclusively for married couples.

This is a tremendous step forward. Many of the gay and lesbian people I know are unhappy that the new civil unions are not called marriages, but if the law gives all the rights of marriage but calls it "Wisconsin", is that really so bad? The difference in names is somewhat reminiscent of the "separate-but-equal" doctrine that was used to justify discrimination against African Americans, but I don't believe this new law will prevent anyone from receiving equal treatment.

This is very progressive legislation for the United Theocracy of America in 2006. Is it the final word on advancing the rights of gay and lesbian New Jerseyans? No, but it is a great step forward. This law is unlikely to be overturned, while a law that allowed same-sex couples to be "married" would have roused the usual army of fundamentalists from all sects to work to get the law repealed. I don't think they will be able to muster much of an effort against this law as it is written; the average New Jersey voter just isn't that prejudiced against gay and lesbian persons.

I hope to see same-sex couples gain the right to call themselves married. In the present political climate, however, that day is probably still several years away. Until then, this new law is a significant advance in civil rights and we should regard it as such.

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