Thursday, December 14, 2006

Reflections of a Jersey Girl

Well, it is official. The legislature in New Jersey has passed a law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples. The governor has said that he will approve it. This is a step up from the domestic partnerships they had had in place prior to this, but it is not as good as marriage.

I have to say that I am disappointed. In my perspective, the legislature punked out...I expected more from my blue home state. I had even told my family that if same-sex marriage was approved, I would coerce my gf into having a civil ceremony there. In fact, I am surprised, given my mother's instantaneous (and rather heated) commitment to do whatever she could to advocate for marriage, that legislators chose civil unions instead. (Really, she was very excited about the possibility of seeing me "married," even though we had a big public commitment ceremony years ago.)

My current job has us in a state with one of those lovely Super-DOMAs--a state constitutional amendment that seems to rule out any possible way to guarantee rights and responsibilities between same-sex partners. It allows no marriage, no civil unions, no recognition of any contracts or other arrangements that afford the "rights and incidents of marriage" to people like us. No one has defined these rights and incidents, of course, and challenges are certainly waiting in the wings. To further add to the allure of my locale, my public university offers no partner benefits, despite its stated commitment to nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. Rumor is that the new Provost might be willing to work on this last issue, but there is little proof of that so far. I think it will take some organizing on campus to make that happen--and I can't get into that until I get tenure.

I am bothered by all of these legal issues, as I uproot my partner from location to location as I pursue my academic/administrative career. When we arrived in our current state, my partner had no health insurance for 5 months of independent consulting and the first year of her nonprofit job, and then we financed it ourselves for the next 6-7 months. It is only recently that she has health insurance paid for by her agency. How can I ask her to follow me around from place to place, disrupting her career and lifestyle, and not even offer her basic health insurance through my employer?? And yet I don't want to have that requirement when choosing schools--many great places, especially the big public state schools with which I am most comfortable and familiar, don't offer partner benefits.

These questions were compounded when I was trying to get pregnant. Would we be in a state where she could do a second-parent adoption? Could I even get the healthcare I needed for insemination, and then fertility treatment? Would she get to be included in that process? Would the medical staff honor her role as co-mother and partner in the hospital? Would educators honor her role in the public schools?

Marriage seems like it would solve some messy dilemmas in our lives. It is not a panacea. As anyone working for civil rights knows, changing laws does not change hearts and minds. But it does give you the legal basis you need to fight for your rights as you work to change hearts and minds. And it provides the legal protections that you count on in everyday life.

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