As New Jersey joins a handful of other states by enacting civil unions today, it isn't something to be proud of. Sure, something is better than nothing, but it's hard to celebrate something when everything was possible. Now, equality won't come for some time, while families and the state of New Jersey will have to pay -- literally.
First, civil unions don't work in the real world for many reasons. They are discriminatory and hurt families. Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally understands and accepts.
Second, civil unions are a dangerous trap for people who want equality, but don't know any better. Thinking the term 'civil union' is a more politically palatable way of giving same-sex couples the rights they deserve is actually detrimental to equality. To settle for civil unions is to settle for political futility, expediency, timidity, and comfort. It lodges same-sex families into a limbo difficult to escape. They become perceived as having the same rights, making those who want equality grow complacent.
Third, instead of utilizing the full 180 days given to them by the State Supreme Court, New Jersey's Democratic leadership rushed through a civil unions bill. Democratic Senate President Dick Codey says the state isn't ready for marriage yet, but he and others have not even attempted to make the case for equality -- an easy case to make.
Nevermind that the polls have shown that a majority of New Jerseyans want equality. Nevermind that the polls also show New Jerseyans don't know what equality is. Nevermind Governor Corzine all the legislators who say they would support marriage, if only they had the votes. And nevermind that civil unions are discriminatory and implicate a lesser form of commitment. Barring all of those things, there is still a strong case for marriage equality that ties in with the most fundamental problem New Jersey has -- fiscal management.
Yesterday, UCLA's Williams Institute released a study on the economic benefits of marriage --- not civil unions --- in New Jersey. Their low-ball estimate: same-sex weddings would boost the state economy by more than $100 million annually. It would translate into more than $7 million per year in additional tax revenue. For a decade, New Jersey has been one of the worst fiscally managed states in the country. $7 million annually is not going to solve our budget problem, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.
But the icing on the cake is that this civil unions law actually costs the state money. A separate system has to be set up. Changes to forms and laws have to be made. State agencies and private businesses have to be educated about the civil unions law and the proper enforcement. Years of costly litigation is now necessary to clarify the meaning of the terms of this new law.
There is some hope in the recent statements of our legislative leaders, but who knows if they'll still be in control in a year or two when this issue is revisited? For all the families given the hope of equality after October's State Supreme Court decision, and for all those who care for them, there's nothing to celebrate here in New Jersey today.
So now, we ask all those who love equality to keep fighting for families here and around the country. We certainly will.
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