Volume 4, Number 47 | November 24 – 30, 2005
Moral Outrage Makes Our Case for Marriage
Ocean County, New Jersey is less than 70 miles from Manhattan, which makes this story all the more staggering.
Laurel Hester is a 49-year-old police lieutenant who has served Ocean County for nearly a quarter of a century. She is dying of lung cancer, and since June has had a simple request in front of the public she has served—that Stacie Andree, 30, with whom she lives in Point Pleasant and is registered as domestic partner under New Jersey’s program, be recognized as such by the county so Andree can receive the pension benefit that she would automatically be given if she were a legal spouse.
Under New Jersey’s domestic partner registry, which after Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Hawaii, and California, offers gay and lesbian couples the strongest protections in the nation, county and municipal governments have the local option to extend the same benefits that Trenton gives state employees.
Finally, on November 9, Ocean County responded to its dying police servant—by refusing to do anything. Some freeholders have cited cost, others have pointed at Trenton saying the Legislature should pick up what is surely a very minor cost, and one had the temerity to tell the Asbury Park Press that aiding Hester and Andree would undermine “the sanctity of marriage.”
The episode is tragic and it is shameful, but it also points up the central wisdom of that 51-year-old Supreme Court dictum: Separate is inherently unequal.
All things being equal, one could not hope for a more favorable venue than New Jersey for pressing gay and lesbian rights claims. The Supreme Court in that state has issued a number of strikingly favorable rulings on behalf of our community, and the state courts also came around early to the concept of joint adoption by gay and lesbian couples. The State Legislature, under former Governor James McGreevey, enacted one of the nation’s more comprehensive partnership statutes, which despite the limited number of rights and obligations enumerated has been interpreted by courts there several times in an expansive, non-exclusive manner to broaden benefits available to same-sex couples.
Ocean County may not be as cosmopolitan as Bergen or Hudson Counties, just over the river, but neither does it have a reputation as a cultural or political backwater.
Given all of these circumstances, if Laurel Hester still needs to prostrate herself before unyielding public officials in order to guarantee her family basic fairness, the case for dispensing with all of this nonsense and simply giving us full equality could not be more clear.
Garden State Equality, the state’s LGBT lobby, is right to hit the streets in Toms River to protest this outrage, and Lambda Legal might yet win its battle before the New Jersey Supreme Court. But, this week, as the nation enters the traditional end-of-year holiday season, New Jersey’s shame stands as a stark reminder of the lack of charity that America still offers its gay and lesbian citizens.