New Jersey and Marriage Equality: Perfect Together

My entire perspective on life as a Giants fan is colored by "The Fumble." In 1978, ahead on the scoreboard with a few seconds left, New York Giants' quarterback Joe Pisarcik botched a handoff to Larry Czonka, and Herman Edwards of the Philadelphia Eagles recovered the ball and scored the game-winning touchdown. Certain victory became shocking defeat. From then on, I have always watched my beloved Giants with skepticism and anxiety. I never feel certain about victory.

As a gay man and son of New Jersey, I now watch as elected officials decide on the status of gay relationships. Since our neighbor New York passed gay marriage legislation with Republican votes, the gay community feels like it has momentum. We are on the cusp of victories in the states of Washington and Maryland. Now, the New Jersey senate and assembly are prepared to vote positively on marriage equality, despite Governor Christie's opposition and call for a popular vote. Victory is far from certain.

For many years, the argument against gay rights was that we wanted special rights. But the truth is that what we actually want is the same rights as everyone else, and to fully participate in society. Having helped people prepare for marriage when I was a Catholic priest, I know that straight folks believe strongly in the importance of marriage and experience it as a privilege rather than a right. For the most part, they do not take it lightly. But when we say that an entire group of people cannot enter this loving and committed union, we not only shut them out of many government-established financial and societal protections, but we say that their relationships are not as important, that their love is not as good, that their lives together have less value. We say they do not deserve equal rights.

In the shadow of both New York and Philadelphia, New Jersey often suffers from an identity problem and easily becomes the joke of late-night comics. Still, there are so many reasons why we should have high self-esteem. From one of the most beautiful shorelines in the country to the natural wonder of the Paterson Falls to our highly successful agricultural industry to the wealth that we have built in our suburban neighborhoods, New Jersey is a remarkable and diverse state. New Jersey's identity would only improve by being one of the first states in our country to enshrine tolerance in its laws by ending second-class citizenship.

We can demonstrate pride in the desire to create a community of equality. I grew up on a cul-de-sac in a small, middle-class town named Pequannock, attended Bruce Springsteen's concerts that opened the former Meadowlands arena, studied for my doctorate at Drew University, watched TV on 9/11 with colleagues at my former employer in Princeton, and restored a turn-of-the-19th-century stone house in a rural part of the state with my partner of 20 years. Gay folks like me don't want to stand out or hide away. We want to stand shoulder to shoulder with you as part of the fabric of life in New Jersey.

Governor Christie's popular vote idea feels like a punt. While he has proven very tolerant by appointing openly gay individuals, he is opposed to marriage equality. But there is a reason we do not have a tradition of popular votes on civil rights in America. This country was set up structurally to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Can you imagine if the 1960s advancement of civil rights for African Americans was subject to a popular vote at that time?

The truth is that civil unions, which New Jersey currently has, have failed to guarantee equality. We must remember that this is a debate about equality. Does New Jersey and our provocative governor want to go on record to say that some citizens should not have equal rights, or do we want to demonstrate a belief in the dignity of every citizen in our state?

Four years ago, a very different Giants team provided a very different experience from "The Fumble." Eli Manning, scrambling in a collapsing pocket on a third and long, threw to a relatively unknown wide receiver, who caught the ball one-handed on his helmet to give the Giants an improbable first down and the opportunity to win an upset Super Bowl victory over the undefeated New England Patriots in what was arguably the best play in Super Bowl history. For one moment, all the anxiety and skepticism of this Giants fan was replaced with joy. This weekend, after this season's miraculous playoff ride, my Giants, New Jersey's Giants, can do it again.

I hope gays and lesbians experience something miraculous, a victory that brings lasting joy. I hope our legislators and governor show that they value equality for all people in New Jersey. Let's not drop the ball on equality.