New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled today that gay and lesbian couples in the state must be afforded "the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes." That could mean same-sex marriage, or it could mean Vermont-style civil unions, and the Court gave the state legislature 180 days to decide which. Only three months ago, New York's highest court punted in a similar case, refusing to give similar instructions to our legislature. We checked in with Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, to ask whether it's time for New York's gays — well, more of New York's gays — to start house-hunting in Montclair.
So who'd have thought that side of the Hudson would go first?
I haven't read the decision in full yet, but it's not just New Jersey going in the right direction. Every state that borders New York, with the exception of Pennsylvania, has passed a comprehensive regulation or law that protects gay and lesbian couples. New Jersey will soon have probably marriage, Connecticut and Vermont have civil unions, Massachusetts has marriage, and Quebec and Ontario have marriage. We're surrounded by jurisdictions that understand that gay and lesbian couples need protections, and we're alone.
You said you think New Jersey will go for same-sex marriage rather than the other option, which is Vermont-style civil unions. What makes you think so?
The speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, I think, has come out today in favor of marriage equality. The governor has said prior to today's announcement that he would sign a marriage bill if it came to his desk. There's still work that needs to be done in New Jersey, but my understanding from talking to people today is that some legislators are ready to put in a marriage-equality bill immediately. New Jersey has taken a very good step in the right direction, and the legislature has to finish the job. And when they do, we'll celebrate for our friends and neighbors in New Jersey, but we'll be in Albany on January 1 pushing our legislature and new governor to take the same action that they did.
You refer to New York being encircled by states and Canadian provinces that have taken this step. Do you think that makes any difference in Albany? Or just the change of regime in January will?
Eliot Spitzer has said that there will be marriage equality in the state of New York — our next governor has said that — and we believe that we just have to work hard to make that a reality.
So it's not time to pick up and move to Montclair?
Montclair is a lovely place to visit. You can get a great meal in Montclair. Hoboken has some fabulous restaurants. Newark has the best Portuguese food I've ever tasted. But don't sell your apartment yet. Because marriage is coming to New York, and if you stay put, it'll be here sooner than you think.