BY PAUL SCHINDLER | “Freeheld: The Laurel Hester Story,” Cynthia Wade's 38-minute film that chronicled the battle of an Ocean County, New Jersey police veteran of more than two decades, as she was dying of cancer, to transfer her earned pension to her lesbian partner, won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary in Hollywood on February 24.
Ocean County freeholders had the legal option to extend those benefits under New Jersey's 2004 domestic partner law, but did not do so until Lieutenant Hester waged her successful struggle on partner Stacie Andree's behalf. Fearing Andree would lose the home they shared without the benefits, Hester took on the county's five Republican freeholders who cited “the sanctity of marriage” in initially denying her request. They reversed themselves just three weeks before Hester's death in February 2006.
Garden State Equality, the New Jersey LGBT civil rights lobby, celebrated the film's nomination (and victory) at the South Orange Performing Arts Center while the Oscar broadcast was being aired.
Garden State Equality worked with Hester on her effort, and the film documentary represents one of the most powerful examples in GSE's lobbying campaign to educate voters on why complete marriage equality is the only way same-sex couples can be assured of the rights and benefits that New Jersey's Supreme Court has required since a late 2006 ruling.
In a striking irony, the Oscar was announced by American service members via a satellite feed from Baghdad, a nearly unprecedented opportunity for the US military to speak out on behalf of LGBT equality. If any of those soldiers were lesbian or gay, they would not be able to designate their partners as pension beneficiaries.