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Observations on the Marriage Equality Hearing Underway in New Jersey

December 7th, 2009 No comments

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Here’s the scene from New Jersey today, where supporters and opponents of the marriage equality bill gathered in advance of the Senate Judiciary committee meeting. Write your own caption.

If I had more time, I would have live-blogged this carnival from start to finish. (Here‘s the link to the hearing now going on.)

Since I’m listening right now, here’s a live bloggette:  There’s an interesting colloquy going on between a spokesman for the Catholic Church and the legislators. The Church guy (one Mr. Brennigan, it seems) appears to be in support of the current civil union law, but won’t be boxed in to saying that directly. He’s being pushed to ask whether it’s the label that matters, or substantive rights and privileges: Should same-sex couples get all of the same rights and privileges as married couples, save the title?

Yes, he says: You can create a parallel structure with all of the same rights and benefits. But you can’t call a same-sex union marriage. He’s almost saying — no, he is saying — that the legislature lacks the power to grant the status of marriage to gay couples. But this is a natural law argument, to which my response is always: “Who says?” One needs a properly public argument.

Mr. Brennigan is now acknowledging that, yes, the Church did oppose the civil union law. So, he says, this is about mitigating the damage.

Now one Senator is asking what the Catholic Church would have to say to a reform Jew who supports marriage equality, and how natural law fits into this disagreement. Brennigan is properly respectful, but the question gets at something vital: By choosing any particular religion’s view over another’s, the law ends up disrespecting religion more generally. The Senator follows up with exactly the right observation: Based on your view, we end up disenfranchising another religion.

True. That’s why arguments must be independent of religion. I’ll be back with a summary and a preview of Thursday’s vote later.