We were honored that David found time to give the New Jersey Commission on Civil
Rights the following statement the day the Commission’s Resolution was signed:
Good morning to you all, the distinguished members of the Commission.
For those of you who may not know, I am senior counsel at Lambda Legal and lead
attorney in the New Jersey Supreme Court Case, Lewis v. Harris. It
is the decision of that case, and the lives and needs of our plaintiffs and New
Jersey’s twenty thousand same-sex couples and their twelve thousand children,
that lead to the proposed resolution before you today. I am very grateful
for the opportunity to testify in a matter that so deeply affects so many lives
in the state.
I want to acknowledge to the Commission that, of course, more protections are
always better than fewer protections for the families we serve, even in the
context of ongoing discrimination. But we respectfully urge you to oppose
the Civil Union bill and support the Marriage Equality bill as is reflected in
the proposed resolution, because the Civil Union bill would indeed become the
very source of the ongoing discrimination that is of concern.
As the Supreme Court of Massachusetts explained in rejecting the same kind of
legislation in the Civil Union bill, to use the words “Civil Union” is a
considered choice of language that assigns same-sex couples to second class
status. This bill the New Jersey legislature is considering would label
the lifetime relationships of same-sex couples as second class, and rob those
couples of respect for their relationships. I can’t think of a married
couple who would choose to convert their marriage to a Civil Union, and there is
an obvious reason for that: the name of “Marriage” matters.
The New Jersey public is increasingly recognizing that the name matters, as
reflected in the latest Quinnipiac Poll showing that support for equality in
marriage is nearing 50%. And the general public has not even had the
advantage of hearing testimony about why Civil Unions are indeed wrong as we had
hoped the legislature would have. But testimony was unfortunately
cut off at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary meeting.
The New Jersey State Bar Association -– and I apologize if this has already come
up before the Commission -– but I want to make sure folks know that that
Association did have the advantage of looking at the evidence and looking at
both the Civil Union bill and the Marriage bill. And as many may know,
they voted last Friday to support Marriage Equity and opposed the very Civil
Union bill that seems to be going to the floor vote on Thursday in both the
Senate and the Assembly.
Here is what sets New Jersey apart from other states on this issue today, and it
may be the most important information I can give the Commission today. For
nearly two years we have been hearing from same-sex couples throughout the state
who have registered as domestic partners that the need to talk about their
relationship comes up as often as it does for married couples, by the water
cooler at work, with the human resources department, in the neighborhood, at
their children’s schools, for the forms at the doctor’s or the dentist’s office,
and when it sometimes counts the most, in the hospital. They cannot use
the word everyone immediately understands, which is the word “married.”
They have to explain what a domestic partnership is –- which of course just by
virtue of having to do so cheapens the relationship. They always have to
worry because the government has sent the message that the relationship is not
as worthy as marriage, that someone will follow the government’s example and
treat them with disrespect and that has in fact happened, that is what we find
in the phone calls to our helpline.
We find that the circumstances are most disturbing in health care settings, and
even where we have been able to resolve the problem by phone, perhaps by
contacting the hospital’s lawyer, often the damage is already done in turning a
very difficult medical emergency into an emotional nightmare. None of this
changes if Domestic Partnerships are replaced by Civil Unions because that
governmental message of these relationships being unworthy is still there.
And what is also still there is the need for all these couples to explain their
relationship whether it is in everyday matters or in circumstances where tragedy
might become much worse than it might otherwise would be. So New Jersey
has experience with this particular harm of imposing a separate status on a
minority group, which explains why we believe the legislature is rushing to the
wrong side of history in rushing through the Civil Union bill -– to do so would
replace one discriminatory status with yet another, Civil Union, and force these
couples and their families to struggle through more years of indignity, harm and
For that reason, I commend the proposed resolution before you as a step to the
right side of history, consistent with this Commission’s longstanding
demonstrated commitment to courageous leadership.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Campbell: We certainly appreciate the work you and Lambda have
done, and are doing on this issue. Thank you so much for joining us today!
David Buckel: Thank you sir.