It was October 2013, right before New Jersey finally realized marriage equality. Russell Lewis of Watermark came up with a brilliant idea: Let’s bring LGBT icon Edie Windsor to Asbury Park to highlight her documentary film Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. His thought was to use the screening of the film as an educational tool and raise some much-needed funds for Garden State Equality as it continued its fight for marriage equality.
His attempt to bring national and local political pioneers together to recognize and honor their work, which was and is to simply protect the person they choose to love, was a fortuitous idea. After the plans were made and right before the event happened, New Jersey became the 14th state in the nation to recognize marriage equality. We were not only celebrating our freedom that night but we were welcoming and celebrating a woman who helped make marriage equality a reality. Edie Windsor: what a force, what a power and what a wonderfully passionate person you were.
Here is what motivated Russell to have Edie come to Asbury Park:
“I always believed the battle for marriage equality would be won in the courts. The U.S. legal system is still one of best features of this country. As much as I believe in protest and personal perseverance in our lives, this country’s Constitution would ultimately win the war of marriage equality for gay Americans. Edie and Thea’s story was deeply moving and passionate like so many in our community. When given the opportunity to bring the documentary, as well as the filmmakers and Edie to Asbury Park, something inside me screamed yes—it was a call to duty.
“What Edie accomplished was simply amazing, groundbreaking and awe-inspiring. Not only for a gay person, a woman or any other marginalized person going up against the system—Edie took on the U.S. Government and won. Her determination marked a generation-long movement. Her story of bravery, of triumph, of love and of pure will of what’s right was and is something to be honored. I along with others in the community simply had to make this happen for our hometown of Asbury Park. And it did. It was a glorious, emotional and impactful evening.”
When the possibility of having Edie come to Asbury Park first arose, Russell thought of all of the local people who inspired him—Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Pastor, Danny Weiss and John Grant, organizations such as Garden State Equality — and the countless others who lived their day-to-day lives in New Jersey fighting for equality. Like Edie Windsor, these are not people wanting fame or celebrity—they just want a life that is based on the simple standards afforded any other heterosexual couples. Because of the selflessness of people like Edie Windsor, Russell married his partner of 14 years, Andrew Hacking, in a small ceremony in their home in Asbury Park on Dec. 21, 2014.
Thank you, Edie and Thea, may you both rest in power and peace.
Luanne Peterpaul chairs Garden State Equality’s political action fund. GSE is New Jersey’s largest LGBT civil rights group.