Monday, January 4, 2010

another day in trenton

Through the second half of 2009 and into the early days of 2010, I’ve been working hard at making marriage equality in New Jersey a reality. As the clock winds down, I spent yet another day in Trenton lobbying for marriage equality. As a straight woman, I have no dog in this fight, but I think that everyone should have the same right to get married that I enjoy (and take for granted as I’m pushing 30 and show no signs of getting married anytime soon). This issue does not affect me in any way, shape, or form, but I still think it’s important enough to go to Trenton to lobby the legislature for marriage equality. However as time goes on, I am growing increasingly pessimistic about marriage equality passing in New Jersey this year.

I first want to say that I really envy everyone who has come from other states to help out on Garden State Equality’s campaign. Most of you (from in and out of state) that I have met are some of the nicest people in the world. I also envy your dedication to be willing to leave your friends and family to travel to another state to work on a campaign. Is this issue important to me? Absolutely! Is it my top priority? Not at the moment. Unfortunately there are too many issues that affect me personally, such as the economy, healthcare, jobs, and my own safety. I’m in a very unstable situation myself, and I’m willing to do all I can for others once I’m in a more comfortable situation.

Timing is of the essence here. It’s now or we wait another 4 years until Governor Cory Booker (that has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? Please please let this become a reality) will sign the bill into law, or a Supreme Court case at the federal level changes everything (not likely to happen with the current Supreme Court).

My beef with Garden State Equality comes with some of the tactics they use with both their supporters and legislators. I’m a very private person by nature, so I am more offended by some of the tactics than others would be. They’re borderline invasive. Just last week, I was phone banking calling supporters inviting them to come to Trenton today to get a large number of us there. Before anyone from GSE sent out an email, supporters were called upwards of 5 times (if they did not pick up the first time). In the day and age of caller ID (and using peak minutes on incoming calls on most cell phone plans), many people like me do not pick up a call if they do not recognize the number. When that person calls back several times, in my opinion that’s harassment. In fact if I had the choice, I would not have organizations reach me by phone at all. (I don’t even prefer the phone to talk with my friends or family.) I’d rather be reached by other forms of communications such as Facebook, email, Twitter, or even text messages. Just don’t use up my minutes on scripted calls because it drives me crazy.

Another thing I would do differently is the way they handle the lobby days. We were given Garden State Equality t-shirts and told to wear them to the lobby days. That is great for an outdoor rally or a casual event. However when you’re in the statehouse there to sit in legislative hearings and lobby legislators, I personally think you should dress professionally. And yes a button could make a statement, but its better off left out. When you don’t look like you’re on one side of the fence or another, everyone is more likely to take you seriously. It’s just like going to a sporting event wearing neither team’s logo or colors—you’re seen as neutral no matter how you feel inside. You won’t be harassed or judged by fans of either team.

The third thing I would do differently is the way we approach our legislators and staff. Chasing them down in the hallways of the statehouse is unprofessional in my opinion. GSE has already utilized better ways to reach them, such as postcards, handwritten letters, phone calls, and constituent meetings. One thing they did not utilize was the email, which a grassroots group on Facebook has already emerged and is getting supporters to do so. Before the holidays, GSE took a very radical approach and approached the state Senators in their personal lives, which in my opinion is very invasive of their privacy.

The bottom line on marriage equality is this—we either have the votes or we do not. I honestly don’t think we can change any minds in the next two weeks. We won’t know until the bill is brought to the Assembly and Senate floor for a vote though, and that has to be done on Corzine’s watch. If we win marriage equality, that is great, and I will be not only very happy for myself, but for the entire LGBT community. Either way our work won’t go unnoticed.

If we do not win marriage equality, we will come back stronger when we have a chance. We reload for a future campaign. Between now and 2014, when the next governor will take office, the assembly is up for election twice and the senate once. I can only speak for my own county, but if Senators Sean Kean and Jennifer Beck, both Republicans who are leaning towards opposing marriage equality and who represent districts with overwhelming support for marriage equality, that is ammo for their opponent in the 2011 election. Both could easily be defeated by pro-equality candidates (more likely by Democrats than in a Republican primary). Maybe if we make enough of an impact, we could pass a marriage equality bill with a large enough majority to overcome a Christie veto.

There’s an old cliché saying “we won the battle but not the war” I’m starting to look at marriage equality as one battle in a war. Maybe we can't win this battle, but I do believe we can win the war. I do realize that GSE has fought and won several battles in the past (all before I moved to New Jersey). Our battle is an important battle for the war for marriage equality everywhere.

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