Now that we have won the long fight for marriage equality here in New Jersey and the parties are over, we find there is still some fine- tuning to do. The legislature is considering whether over- riding the governor’s veto and writing equality into law is necessary, since the courts seem to have done the job for them. This idea, of course, lets a lot of Republicans and a few Democrats off the hook. More than that, it opens some possibilities that a law, as presently envisioned, would not.
The court’s decision did not provide for a religious exemption – a feature that would be present in any law that might get passed. This in no way means clergy would be legally obliged to perform marriages they or their denomination disapprove of. No law or court decision could mandate such a violation of the First Amendment. However, it does open the question of the use of facilities otherwise available to the public – a hall owned by the Knights of Columbus for example. Could a gay couple insist on their right to use such a facility and even sue to enforce such a right? Though the answer to that question is presently murky, legal analysts have raised the possibility. Senate President Sweeney has said “all options are on the table” as legislators meet to decide what to do.
Garden State Equality Chair Troy Stevenson has indicated possible support for letting the issue stand as is. “I do not believe we should be caveating our rights” Stevenson was quoted in the Trenton Times as saying. “I think we’re in the position right now where we’ve got some of the strongest marriage protections in the country and for us to pro- actively go out and insert some sort of religious exemption that allows religious discrimination to be codified into law, I don’t know why we would do that.”
I do. I know exactly why we would do that. We would do it to show that, now that we at last have the upper hand in this battle, we can be gracious in victory. We would do it because decent people who respect other people’s convictions even if they disagree with them, do not force themselves upon those other people. There are plenty of halls available to rent. There are ample facilities of all sorts to meet the wedding needs of our community without having to force our way into a premises that belongs to a religious organization opposed to same sex marriage.
We just have no practical need of this nor do we need the intense hostility that such an effort would create. Enemies are expensive indulgences and there is no point in creating them without pressing need. Personally, I would have no wish to deal with any space or service provider who was opposed to me marrying my partner. There was a time when such bigotry was the rule but that time is no more. The market place has corrected the problem and today we are in fact deluged with offers and advertising from people who are only too happy to provide every sort of wedding service one can imagine for LGBT couples. If there are still a few for whom our money isn’t good enough, I say fine – let them be. They are the past. The future belongs to us and it would suit us well to enter into it in a forgiving and tolerant spirit.