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After year of domestic partnership, push grows for gay marriage
By REBECCA SANTANA
Associated Press Writer
July 10, 2005, 7:50 PM EDT
MAPLEWOOD, N.J. -- "We want to get married!"
That was the refrain Sunday as members of New Jersey's gay and lesbian community gathered for a town hall meeting. The event marked the one-year anniversary of the state's passage of a domestic partnership law, but it also was used to push for legalizing same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank _ the longest-serving openly gay member of Congress _ and several New Jersey state lawmakers were among a crowd of about 400 people who came to St. George's Episcopal Church in Maplewood for an often loud and raucous meeting staged by Garden State Equality, a grass roots group advocating for gay and lesbian rights.
Last July, New Jersey became the fifth state to recognize gay and lesbian couplings with a domestic partnership law. The law extends some tax and health insurance benefits to same-sex couples, but does not allow them to marry.
And while many attending the meeting praised the law was a step in the right direction, they also believe it does not go far enough.
"It doesn't provide half the amount of rights as married couples get," said Su Lael, 45, who along with her partner Sarah are one of the seven couples currently suing the state for the right to legally marry. And although they have been together for 15 years, the pair have not registered under the domestic partnership law.
"We're holding out for marriage," Sarah said.
One of the common complaints about the domestic partnership law is that it does not force many employers to give gay and lesbian partners the same benefits as married couples, including access to health care or retirement benefits.
Many couples attending the meeting also pointed to more intangible reasons for wanting to get married, such as the desire for commitment, societal recognition and love.
"We love each other, and we want to get married," said Catherine Hecht, 35, who along with her partner Beth Achenbach, 37, were the first couple to be registered in Jersey City last year under the domestic partnership law.
So far, same-sex marriage advocates have taken to the courts to push for legal recognition, arguing that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry under the state constitution.
However, they have had little success so far. A state appeals court rejected their argument earlier this year, but since one of the judges dissented, the case automatically goes to the state Supreme Court.
The justices will likely hear arguments within the next year, although a lawyer from Lambda Legal _ which is representing the gay and lesbian couples in the court _ said no hearing dates had been set.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say it will lessen the institution of marriage and that wedlock should be reserved for union between a man and woman. However, that argument was rejected by Frank.
"They always predict chaos, and they're never right," said Frank, whose home state is the only one in the nation where courts have recognized gay marriage.
Several other states, including 11 last year alone, have amended their state constitutions to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. But Frank said Massachusetts residents have seen very little disruption of their lives since gay marriage is legal.
So far there has been no serious effort to ban same-sex marriage in New Jersey, possibly because many in the state are open to the idea. Over the past year, major opinion polls have shown that anywhere between 43 to 55 percent of the state's residents support same-sex marriage.
If the state Supreme Court rejects same-sex marriage, supporters at the rally said they will regroup and push for more incremental change through the state legislature.
Among the state lawmakers attending the meeting was Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen. Johnson said he came to show his support for the gay and lesbian community and learn more about the issue of same-sex marriage, but has not decided whether he would support a state law legalizing such unions.
"I would think that that would require a lot more dialogue," said Johnson, adding that he supported the domestic partnership law.