The debate over gay marriage has been heating up with the Supreme Court hearing arguments last week in two cases involving the issue. Leading the push for gay marriage in New Jersey is Garden State Equality. Executive Director Troy Stevenson told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that he’s optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which would deny federal benefits to same-sex couples who legally married in states that allow the practice, and Proposition 8, which passed in California and restricted marriage to heterosexual couples.
“I think the DOMA case, I think it will be overturned. I think there’s a lot of consensus around that. We are also optimistic in the Prop 8 case. There’s a lot of different ways it could go,” Stevenson said. “The present administration saying that states like New Jersey that do have some sort of recognition should be given full marriage equality so there’s the potential that that could happen through the Prop 8 case.”
Democrats in New Jersey have pushed for legalized same sex marriage and have said they will try to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of the measure. “We passed marriage equality through both houses of the New Jersey legislature last year. We’re working hard to override the governor’s veto as quickly as possible,” Stevenson said. “We’ve gotten a lot more legislators that have come on board. I think they’ll be talking about that a lot more in the weeks and months to come, so we’re very optimistic that that can happen this year.”
Garden State Equality has joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union to fight for marriage equality. Stevenson said the ACLU is a great ally.
The New Jersey Senate Health Committee has approved a bill to ban sexual conversion therapy, a practice that is meant to turn a gay individual straight. Stevenson said the practice is harmful.
“It’s an effort to change one’s sexual orientation. It’s an effort to change something immutable about a person, the way they’re born, and turn them into somebody that somebody else — whether it’s a doctor or their parents — want them to be. It’s abusive, it’s horrible,” Stevenson said. “The young people that have survived this, they’re eight times more likely to commit suicide, six times more likely to suffer from extreme depression. It’s just a horrible practice and we hope to end it as quickly as possible in New Jersey.”
Stevenson said it’s unclear how rampant the practice is because it’s underground, but “we know it happens way too often and we know the damage that comes out of it.”
While Christie has said he doesn’t believe in using conversion therapy, Stevenson said he hasn’t indicated if he would sign the bill. He added that he hopes and believes the governor will sign the measure and he’s optimistic it will get to his desk.
“We believe it will pass both houses of the legislature. It just went through the senate health committee with a 7-to-1 vote, which was very good news,” Stevenson said. “We believe it’s on track and it won’t be long.”
Garden State Equality was also heavily involved in the anti-bullying laws New Jersey currently has, which are the strongest in the country.
“It is helping thousands of kids every day throughout the state. It needs to be better funded. A lot of things need to happen but it is the best law,” Stevenson said. “It’s a law that we need to protect and make sure that these kids continue to have the protections offered by it.”