(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) released the following statement Thursday as the Assembly voted 42-33 to approve marriage equality legislation in New Jersey (A-1):
“I wanted to thank you, Madam Speaker, for posting this extraordinary measure. This is probably one of the highlights of my legislative tenure – no matter what the ultimate outcome may be.
“I also want to thank my co-prime sponsors — Connie Wagner, Mila Jasey, John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Jason O’Donnell, John Wisniewski and Tim Eustace, as well as the cosponsors. I want to also thank the Majority Staff under Bill Caruso; and particularly Kari Osmond on my staff and Chris Hillman and Brian McGuiness who worked tirelessly to get us here today. We spend such little time down here that we legislators sometimes forget how much our staffs do for us – work that often times remains underappreciated.
“I want to acknowledge the countless letters, phone calls and emails that weighed in on this important issue. I received one particular text from a friend who saw me on TV with her 10 yr old daughter. Her daughter said to her mom, “hey, don’t I know that guy? – and, after explaining why I was on TV, the girl then said she couldn’t understand why everyone can’t get married?”
“For those who oppose this measure, I realize that this is a difficult decision to make. It is a question that tests the fundamental protections of liberty founded in our federal and state constitutions. We rarely have to put safeguards in the law to protect the things we like. It is the difficult things, like safeguarding against government intrusions into our civil rights, that are often hard to deal with and easier to put off to the next generation of legislative choices. But we are here now, and I hope you can vote your conscience – because whatever your rationale is today, this is one of those votes that history will want to know what side you were on.
“Let us not forget that posterity will judge members of this House according to future mores and customs, not the mores and customs of our time. As history has shown, both through the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement for African Americans, legislators who vote on the side of progress are later praised for their moral courage and fortitude. So, let us in the Assembly, vote on the side of progress.
“We sometimes get lost in all the noise of public debate, media coverage, misperceptions and misinformation regarding this issue. Indeed, we have heard a lot of the arguments against same-sex marriage just as we did when we ended the miscegenation laws banning interracial marriages in the sixties. I’m particularly reminded of Perry Loving, a simple bricklayer in Virginia who happened to be white and married an African American woman, Mildred -subsequently both were arrested. The authorities, including the district judge, as well as those who wished to continue the ban on interracial marriages stated that:
- 1) allowing them to marry would reconstitute and redefine marriages;
- 2) that God did not intend the blending of the races;
- 3) that children would be harmed; and
- that it would lead to marrying one’s dogs.
“All absurd arguments by today’s standards and that, nonetheless, have endured both society’s otherwise rational development and time.
“Moreover, throughout this process, I have been called many names. One member referred to me as a “coward” for not supporting a public referendum, another member criticized me for introducing this legislation while unemployment still plagues our state, and even our Governor got in on the action. I have been able to take the name-calling in stride, after all, they are only words.
“But in the end, the lesson to be learned is that words do matter. And that’s in essence what this bill is all about. Whether one set of persons can say they are “married” while another set of persons in similar circumstances can only say they are civil unionized. Words do matter – especially when it is the government that defines who can or can not be married; not the church.
“If only we could talk to Governor William Bradford today, who in 1621 performed the first civil marriage, thus setting the precedent of government recognition of this right. The point being, that as long as government defines the word “marriage” – And New Jersey does define who can and can not marry in Title 37 of our statutes – then it should be done on an equitable basis.
“We heard from countless people who are living together for 10, 20 years. I heard from a lesbian couple in my district that moved into the state from Massachusetts where they had been duly married. Once they crossed the border, they simply became civil unionized. I heard words from children of same sex parents that they do not understand why their moms and dads can’t marry the person they love. I was asked why a state that governs and defines marriage, has chosen to discriminate against certain citizens. Words do matter.
“I can not change who I am. Otherwise it begs the question why I wouldn’t. Why wouldn’t the countless LGBT teens who struggle with bullying on a daily basis change? Is it any wonder why suicide among gay teenagers continues to plague our country? Do we not realize the isolation it causes young gays and lesbians when the government reinforces a culture that proclaims ‘you are different and will be treated as such.’
“The fact remains, it has been well established and reaffirmed by history that civil rights can not be placed on the ballot. Beginning with the Madisionan principal established in Federalist Paper 51 – – which protects the minority against tyranny of the majority – – to last week’s US Court of Appeals ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8, the precedent of legislating civil rights has been set and furthered.
“Madam Speaker, Robert Frost once said that home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. Our country has always stood for fundamental principles of freedom for Americans, in the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and the right to privacy in our homes.
“We were always taught, the strengths of humankind are faith, hope & love – but the greatest of these three is love. Today is an opportunity for you to stand up to the greatest of these and vote for love.”