“MARRIAGE EQUALITY WILL HAPPEN IN OUR COUNTRY” NJ SENATOR LESNIAK (2010 INTERVIEW + UPDATE)
Originally published here and in the Coaster, September 30, 2010, this interview with one of the first political leaders in the country to support marriage equality is an interesting look back. Five years ago, Senator Lesniak predicted equality was coming soon and offered hope to the gay community from here to California.
UPDATE June 26, 2015: “As someone who was co-prime sponsor of Marriage Equality and hosted one of the first gay marriages in New Jersey, I couldn’t be happier (about the SCOTUS decision),” said the Senator on Friday evening.
September 30, 2010: When the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples, State Senator Raymond Lesniak thought it was time to celebrate. He did not realize how wrong he was.
As the Senator reveals in his compelling and educational new book “What’s Love Got To Do With It? The Case for Same-Sex Marriage” he got an earful about how much he misunderstood from both his girlfriend Salena Carroll, Commissioner of the New Jersey Civil Rights Commission.
That day, he says, was the beginning of his transformation from supporter of gay rights to an outspoken advocate for gay rights. As well, he reached out to Senator Loretta Weinberg to become a prime co-sponsor of New Jersey’s Marriage Equality Act.
I spoke with Senator Lesniak (20th District) about his new book and the national issue of same-sex marriage. The Senator is the definition of the word “leader,” sharing hope for the GLBTI community.
TBP: Why did you write your book?
Senator: I wanted to offer hope for the future and stress that this was a journey not the end of the story. The message is that the final chapter is yet to be written. I thought by going on a book tour, which kicks off in Asbury Park that we could keep hope alive.
I was surprised and frustrated by my fellow legislators’ inability to do the right thing and recognize it was not difficult decision.
The public, for the most part, does not give a damn about same-sex marriage. The people of New Jersey say, “I am not in favor of it but I do not care. If that is what gay people want, then let them do it. It is not going to affect me. Why should I care?”
Senators Kip Bateman and Jen Beck, quite frankly, were pressured by Governor Christie not to vote for the bill. Joe Cryan, assemblyman majority leader, congratulated the effort we made and told us we “left everything out on the field” meaning we did everything we could and we should feel good, even though we did not win.
TBP: Your book is a must-read for anyone who wants to easily understand this issue or learn the political details. A chapter is dedicated to the speeches made on the floor the day of the vote. What did you think about Senator Sean Kean’s recent speech?
Senator: Well, I was shocked by his speech. I went up to him afterwards and I said your speech started out sounding so empathetic and then it turned mean – what happened? He did not understand. He did not get what he was actually saying – how embarrassing it was and how mean-spirited it was. He was oblivious and I think to this day he does not understand in so many ways how the speech was demeaning to minorities because of when he spoke about gay people moving into the communities and the property values not going down and the neighborhoods not turning into garbage.
Who was he referring to when he made that contrast? Nobody knew what he was talking about.
And I like Senator Kean and I do not know why he felt the need to give that speech. Anyone who reads it will see that his heart certainly was not in the right place when he gave that speech.
This issue is about more than just gay marriage – it is about respect for people as human beings. Having marriage equality for LGBTI will do away with the shame that some in society are trying to put on gay people.
I have seen the damage that trying to hide your sexuality does to people. You don’t have to look farther than Governor McGreevey – I know him well personally. The person I know now is so at ease with himself. The controversy that happened to him is the best thing that ever happened to him.
TBP: Would he agree with you?
Senator: Without a doubt. He was forced to admit who he was and because of that he had an opportunity to be happier than he ever would have had otherwise.
TBP: Would he still be in the closet if he was not forced out?
Senator: Without a doubt. Coming out obviously does not guarantee happiness however not being truthful with who you are guarantees you will not be happy with who you are. That is the key there.
And so saying “yes” to marriage equality means recognizing the legitimacy of what people feel about themselves and saying you are okay just the way you are. That will have a positive ripple effect throughout the country and the world.
TBP: Where are we now in the evolution of same-sex marriage as an issue in New Jersey?
Senator: Every civil rights issue goes through this process. It’s a process. We have gone through this before. In the early 1920’s New Jersey voted two to one against giving women the right to vote and then a few years later the legislature passed an amendment to the constitution giving women the right to vote despite the vote against it.
TBP: What do you say to the frustrated and disappointed who have worked so hard for equality in New Jersey and around the country?
Senator: Keep hope alive. It is just a matter of time.
TBP: If you were a betting man what would you say the odds are that marriage equality will become a reality in New Jersey and in the country?
Senator: Odds on, as we say in gambling. It is going to happen. And the New Jersey Supreme Court is going to rule in favor of the challenge that was brought in this case. I am very confident in that.
Sometime within the next 10 years marriage equality will happen in our country. I would say potentially a lot sooner. Then people will say, “What was that all about… what was the big deal here?”