Angered at the defeat of same-sex marriage legislation, leaders of New Jersey’s gay rights movement launched an effort at a Montclair synagogue Feb. 18 to withhold financial support from the Democratic Party.
Several hundred people attended the event at Bnai Keshet, a Reconstructionist congregation, as politicians and activists lamented the defeat of a gay marriage bill in the state Senate on Jan. 7.
Many aimed their anger at Democratic lawmakers, six of whom voted against the bill.
“We had 23 solid votes in the State Senate; then we had only 14,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, a leading gay-rights organization. “Something happened along the way. Somebody was elected governor who happens to be a little conservative. Within a week, our support diminished significantly.”
As the audience cheered, Goldstein added, “Politicians need to be held accountable. We have to know where they stand. Garden State Equality is no longer giving money to the state or national Democratic Party. We are going to continue to support public officials who continue to support us. But the money we would ordinarily give to parties — that is going to candidates who support us.”
Maplewood Mayor Victor Deluca seconded Goldstein, telling the audience he was “embarrassed by what my fellow Democrats did down there in Trenton” when they voted to defeat the gay marriage act.
For Bnai Keshet’s Rabbi Darby Leigh, holding the rally at his synagogue was the right thing to do. “We support Garden State Equality. We support its mission, and we share similar goals,” Leigh told NJ Jewish News before the meeting began.
As he welcomed the audience, Leigh called gay marriage a matter of religious freedom.
“When I perform a religious ritual, it is up to me to determine whether it is valid,” he said. “It is not up to a politician to tell me, ‘This one I can perform, and that one I cannot perform.’ Who are you to walk into my synagogue — my religion, my faith tradition — to tell me what I can and cannot do?”
The meeting was billed as an “unhappy anniversary party” marking three years since the NJ Legislature passed a civil union law whose intention was to provide gay and lesbian couples with the same legal status as married heterosexuals.
“But ‘something like marriage’ does not provide equal treatment under the law,” said Goldstein. “Civil union is to marriage what Sweet ’N Low is to sugar; it is artificial and leaves a real bad taste.”
In a video presentation, members and relatives of same-sex couples spoke of facing discrimination in employment and medical coverage, along with a lack of public awareness of their rights.
One by one, audience members took microphone in hand, faced a video camera, and made direct appeals to legislators to support marriage equality.
“The Jewish community and I stand together for what we know is right, that every individual deserves the same equal treatment, regardless of sexual orientation,” said Cantor Meredith Greenberg of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield.
Acknowledging that she was too young to vote, Isy Abraham-Raveson, 17, a junior at Montclair High School, addressed legislators who opposed the marriage equality bill.
“We did not elect you. But we need you to do your duty to us as young people in your district to support the rights of everyone, because young people I know are growing up as second-class citizens and that is not OK with me,” she said. “I need you to not fail us again.”
Also speaking in favor of same-sex marriage legislation was Sheila Oliver (D-Dist. 34), speaker of the New Jersey Assembly.