Gov. Murphy and NJ Democrats have made significant progress in the goal towards marriage equality by codifying marriage equality into NJ Law. 

In January, Gov. Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill S3416, codifying marriage equality into New Jersey law. While marriage equality currently exists in New Jersey based on state and federal court decisions, the new law demonstrates the state’s commitment to ensuring equal treatment for same-sex couples and protects against any potential reversal on marriage equality by the U.S. Supreme Court.


The battle for marriage equality in New Jersey has been hard-fought for nearly two decades, starting with former Gov. Jim McGreevey when he signed the Domestic Partnership Act, which granted gay couples many of the same financial and legal benefits as married couples.


In 2012, a bill passed by the New Jersey Legislature to legalize same-sex marriage was vetoed by former GOP Gov. Chris Christie. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which granted gay married couples the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. In a landmark decision months later and citing the Supreme Court decision, State Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey. Christie appealed the ruling but later withdrew this appeal after his request for a stay was unanimously struck down.


In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that same-sex couples could marry nationwide--a historic victory in the fight for marriage equality. 


That should have been the end of it. But a new brand of politics reared its head a year later with the election Donald J. Trump, who set to work packing the highest court in the land with ultra-conservative justices. 


Today, the full import of the power the Supreme Court can wield has never been starker. Last year, the state of Texas passed a law that banned abortions after the first six weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of incest and rape. Since most women are unaware of their pregnancies six weeks after inception, the law essentially has made it impossible for a woman in Texas to get an abortion. Shockingly, the Supreme Court went silent on the ban, allowing the law to go into effect as of Sept. 1, 2021.


In addition, the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an upcoming case that would deem the U.S. Constitution neutral on Roe v. Wade, meaning that the power to regulate abortions would fall to individual states. This would essentially overturn the landmark abortion law passed nearly 50 years ago.


Today, 21 states are considering some form of ban on abortions, with lawmakers across these states preparing legislation that would allow residents to sue doctors who perform abortions.


So, what does this have to do with gay marriage in New Jersey? The answer is: everything.


The attack on a woman’s right to choose serves as a frightening blueprint for the potential dismantling of LGTBQ rights in this country. It must serve as a clarion call for individual states to take action to protect its LGBTQ residents from being denied the most basic of civil liberties.


Last year, the FBI reported that hate crimes against the LGBTQ community reached a record high in 2020, with a major uptick in crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Hate crimes against lesbians and the transgender community saw the sharpest spike.


Bias against LGBTQ individuals is nothing new, but the takeaway here is that even in an era of increased social acceptance–an era when our community is enjoying more tolerance than it ever has before, when schools are creating LGBTQ-inclusive curricula, and more cities across the country are hosting pride events–we as a community are still very much at risk. 


As new generations of progressive thinkers are being molded and global tolerance for LGBTQ people continues to grow, so too are new generations of haters who seek to deny us equal rights under the law. We dare not be complacent. 


States must be proactive and prioritize equality for its marginalized communities. This means protecting voting rights, a woman’s right to choose, and a gay couple’s right to marry. States must take steps to protect our LGBTQ and BIPOC communities, our Black and Brown communities, our Indigenous communities. 


In codifying same-sex marriage, New Jersey took the necessary action to protect its LGBTQ citizens. But we cannot stop here. As I write this, LGBTQ Americans are still not fully protected from discrimination in 29 states, according to Freedom for All Americans. In 27 states, there are no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. 

There is much work to be done, and we all have a responsibility to do this work to ensure that we become part of the solution. In the words of the great American Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis: “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part."


Elana Knopp is a former investigative reporter covering Union and Essex counties. She currently serves as the Senior Content Writer for a global renewable energy advisory firm. She lives with her partner in Barnegat.