The presidential candidates debated the issue of gay marriage in Cleveland, students assembled in the Social Sciences Building atrium Wednesday afternoon to bear witness to the mock marriages of four same-sex couples.
The event, held for the second time at the College, was organized by the Gay Union of Trenton State at The College of New Jersey (GUTS) with the intention of increasing understanding of same-sex marriage. “The goal was to raise awareness about the inequality of marriage as compared to same-sex civil unions today,” Amanda Gerson, vice president of GUTS, said. Pamphlets outlining the differences between marriage and civil union were available, along with cake and punch.
The four student couples were united by vows of matrimony altered to cater to the nature of their relationships.
“I thought it was cool how they changed the wording of the vows to fit with a guy and a guy or a girl and a girl,” Laura Gooley, sophomore open options major in the School of Culture and Society, said.
The idea that a same-sex marriage is not different from a marriage of two heterosexuals was the theme of the event.
“We did this to show that gay weddings are not dissimilar,” Julie Kirschner, senior interactive multimedia and women’s and gender studies major, who acted as officiator for the mock weddings, said. “They are a celebration of two people’s love, just like any wedding ceremony.”
During their debate the night before, the two U.S. vice presidential candidates both said they believe the matter should be left up to the states and that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
The significance of the national debate on the issue was not lost on the participants. Angel Hernandez, one of the participants, compared the gay rights effort to the most significant social movement of the 20th century. “What we’re seeing is a big movement towards civil rights” he said. “This is the civil rights movement of our generation.”
The College ceremony came on the heels of several challenging months for those seeking same-sex marriage licenses across the country. The California Supreme Court recently nullified thousands of marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in San Francisco last spring.
On Aug. 3, voters in Missouri approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Louisiana followed suit on Sept. 18. They join Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada on the list of states with constitutional amendments forbidding homosexual marriage.
On Nov. 2, voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah will also be asked to vote on the issue, with analysts predicting overwhelming support for constitutional bans in each of those states.
New Jersey is one of the few states in America that grants limited domestic rights to same-sex couples, thanks to the Domestic Partnership Act signed into law by Gov. James McGreevey on Jan. 12.
“I really hope a vote isn’t needed in New Jersey,” Gerson said. “The Domestic Partnership Act is a step in the right direction and I think the way this is going to get done is through legislation.”
When asked what New Jersey’s political climate was, participants in the ceremony agreed the state is fairly gay-friendly. His partner for the ceremony, Noel Ramirez, pointed out a lot can depend on where you live.
“I come from Jersey City, where there are a lot more resources,” he said. “I really think there are more resources and greater acceptance in the north part of New Jersey.”
Few in attendance seemed to come to the event from an anti-gay or undecided standpoint. Everyone at the event appeared to come with their minds already made up on the issue.
“I don’t think there was anyone undecided here,” Shannon Murray, sophomore civil engineering major and witness to the ceremony, said. “I don’t think someone would come here if they needed their mind made up. This was more of a celebration than a propaganda thing.”
However, Gerson had advice for anyone still undecided on gay marriage: “get educated.”
While no minds may have been changed by this event, Murray felt that it was well worth her attendance. “I almost cried. Actually, I did cry a lot,” she said.