By JENNIFER MANDELBLATT
When the Garden State became the 14th state to legalize same-sex marriage, it took a step towards equality and proved to the nation that it is, in fact, Jersey Strong. On Friday, Oct. 18, the state’s supreme court decided to continue on the path of progress that was established when the federal court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. And while we celebrate the fact that something as pure and beautiful as love is not to be a limitation to equality, we must understand that it was the state court’s duty to rule as it did and we must look forward to the next step.
Since it was the state supreme court that legalized gay marriage rather than the legislature, Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, stated, “All in all, today’s ruling is another sad chapter in watching our courts usurp the rights of voters to determine issues like this for themselves,” according to cnn.com. It would have been preferable to Brown and individuals alike to put the legalization of same-sex marriage up to a referendum. To that argument, it must be said that the nation’s strength and democracy is derived from the supreme law of the Constitution, and under the Fourteenth Amendment the Constitution guarantees equality.
If the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against gay marriage, not only would it have put the rights of countless gay and lesbian citizens in jeopardy, it would have failed to do its explicit duty, per Judicial Review, of upholding the Constitution.
Had the legalization of gay marriage been put to a referendum, there is reason to believe it would have failed. According to ncsl.org, “The majority of previous statewide votes on the issue of marriage has sought to define marriage as between one man and one woman, effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage. Between 1998 and 2012, there were 31 votes in 30 states on this issue, and in all but one case, voters agreed to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.”
In 30 cases, prejudices and the game of politics won. The New Jersey Supreme Court made its decision because our government cannot be in the business of gambling with human rights.
But, even with this recent success, we cannot forget that there are obstacles and challenges to overcome. There are 35 states that have yet to legalize same-sex marriage, and in 29 states, sexual orientation is not a protected class, meaning someone can be fired simply because of sexuality. In addition to taking appropriate legal measures, we, as a society, must make a commitment to remove the word “fag” from our vocabulary and end the use of “gay” as an insult, because we cannot underestimate the power of words to perpetuate discrimination.
These changes will take time, but it is our responsibility and in our interest to ensure the protection of our fellow Americans. In this society, there are far too many grounds for discrimination and at one point or another we will all fall victim to it. If we do not speak up to aid the minority voices now, what right do we have to ask for aid in the future? And so, we speak up because it is right. We speak up because we have to ensure that equality is unconditional.
For the moment, though, let’s celebrate the continuation of progress, happiness and, above all, love. And then, when the wedding cake is eaten and suits and gowns are hung up, let’s get back to work.