Yesterday’s state senate vote spelled defeat for a proposed marriage equality bill in New Jersey, yet the people who are part of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey (UULMNJ) know that the struggle for justice goes on.
At rallies and hearings over the past months, Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have stood on the side of love and called for full equality under the law for same-sex couples. On December 7, 2009, six UU ministers, organized by UULMNJ, joined more than twenty other speakers to testify in support of marriage equality at a hearing before the state Judiciary Committee on Marriage Equality. Among those speaking were Rev. Charles Stephens, minister of the UU Church at Washington Crossing, and Rev. Manish K. Mishra, who serves the UU Church in Cherry Hill. Mishra testified (PDF), “Our nation’s history has shown us that ‘separate but equal’ only creates separate, it does not create equal. The Garden State’s trial run with civil unions should now be relegated to the history books. The time for true marriage equality is before us.”
Another rally was held in Trenton on January 7, attended by many UUs including Rev. Sarah Lammert, who serves the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood. Lammert said, “In my faith tradition, we affirm gay and lesbian marriages. I think most people support this. The legislators are playing politics right now.”
Working closely with Garden State Equality and other faith groups committed to marriage equality, UULMNJ organized faithful witness and education programs. A vote of the state senate was scheduled for December 10, 2009, but was deferred until January 7, 2010—near the end of the legislature’s current session and the sitting governor’s term of office. The bill failed in the senate yesterday, by a vote of 20-14. Supporters of marriage equality have said that they will turn to the courts to take action to bring marriage equality to the state, which already has a civil union law in place.
UULMNJ Director Julia Hamilton said after the Senate defeat, “It is not easy, this road to justice. But then again, “easy” is not what we were promised. In fact, we were not promised anything. We are the ones who have made promises, a covenant with one another that we will not give up, that we will be here for as long as it takes. It is a commitment that I do not take lightly, and every time we have the chance to stand on the side of love, every time we show up and make good on that covenant, we move one step closer to the beloved community that we are building together, right here and now. Today was one of those steps—not the last one, but an important one.”
Rev. Manish Mishra said, “Despite this week's vote, the movement towards true marriage equality in New Jersey is not over. The state Supreme Court has mandated that gay/lesbian couples should be treated equal to heterosexual married couples. That mandate has not yet been fulfilled, and as such the state's moral responsibility to bring about change has also not yet been fulfilled. We Unitarian Universalists have been at the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality in NJ, and we will continue to be until true equality is achieved. The movement may have suffered a setback this week, but our sights have not been set back. Marriage equality will one day be the reality in NJ. That is the vision; that is our mission.”
The UULMNJ will host Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Peter Morales on January 30 to discuss action on marriage equality as well as affordable housing and other initiatives.