Spectators whistled at the steamy kiss between two men that sealed one of the “marriages” at PRISM’s third annual “‘Til Death Do us Part” program on Thursday night. The event, which sought to raise awareness about gay marriage, featured three mock weddings with gay, straight and lesbian couples, along with three speakers who lectured on the social, legal and religious issues surrounding the controversial topic.
Started in 2003 by two Wolfe community advisors (CAs) as a multicultural values event, the program has gained attention and relevance as the subject of gay marriage has ignited fierce debate throughout the country in the past few years.
“We want to mobilize and educate the College community about this issue that’s so pressing,” PRISM President Noel Ramirez said. Ramirez and Benjamin Nelson, a student at Mercer County Community College, were married in one of the ceremonies and shared the aforementioned kiss.
“Many students are not exposed to what a queer relationship is,” Ramirez said. “The fact remains that some people have never seen two men or women kiss.”
The atrium of the Social Sciences Building, filled almost to capacity, was decorated with red roses, balloons, white carpet and even a wedding cake, which was cut in a reception afterward featuring romantic slow-dancing by various couples, gay and straight.
While religion and gay rights often seem to clash, with many fundamentalist groups claiming homosexuality is an “abomination,” the Unitarian Universalist Campus Ministry (UUCM) showed its strong support of gay marriage and rights.
The ceremonies were officiated by Rev.Charles J. Stephens, who is the parish minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington’s Crossing. Stephens, who also lectured on the role of religion in gay marriage, has performed many gay marriages in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, and mentioned that he received unanimous support from his congregation to officiate the ceremonies on Thursday.
“Unitarians work for a more open society,” he said in his lecture. “I would encourage you to go, without rancor, to your priest, minister, rabbi and say, ‘I think our congregation should be more loving.'”
When questioned about the reasons behind the anti-gay movement found in most religions, Stephens said he thinks strong fundamentalism is mostly at fault.
“Some people believe that the Bible is against homosexuality,” he said. “The Bible is also against eating certain types of shellfish, but we don’t follow that portion of the Bible today, do we?”
Besides the UUCM and PRISM, the event was also sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Office of Residential and Community Development (ORCD).
The ACLU presented speaker Edward Barocas, who is the legal director for the ACLU of New Jersey, who lectured on the legal and political issues concerning gay marriage.
While expressing frustration that many laws have been passed banning gay marriages, he also said he believes that in the next year or two New Jersey will pass a law allowing them.
“New Jersey has the strongest laws against discrimination in the country,” he said.
Ann Nicolosi, associate professor of women’s and gender studies, attended the event with her partner, and spoke about social issues that affect gay marriage. She was impressed with the progress that has been made concerning homosexual rights.
“Ten years ago we hid,” she said. “There was no place for us and no support.”
The atmosphere of the event was largely positive and supportive.
“I think it’s nice that this was done in a non-political way,” Elaine Smolen, freshman deaf education major, said.
“The speakers were phenomenal and it was an exciting atmosphere,” Khusbu Patel, president of the College’s ACLU branch, said. “This was a peaceful way of advancing society.”
Although gay rights are a controversial issue, there seemed to be no oppostion at the ceremony.
“In the past there has been little to no opposition,” Ramirez said.
In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Group in 2004, 65 percent of registered voters were opposed to gay marriage, although some did support civil unions. The difference between the two is that marriage between two people includes many financial and legal rights, such as monetary benefits when a spouse dies, unrestricted hospital visitation rights and tax breaks. Civil unions, while symbolically echoing a legal marriage, do not provide these benefits to homosexual couples.
Many states, picking up on the opinions of voters, have declared a constitutional ban on gay marriage. On Election Day last Tuesday, Texas became the 19th state to institute the ban. President George W. Bush said last year that he would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Internationally, 33 countries, including Australia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, South Africa and Canada have laws protecting gay rights and gay marriages, although the wording and legal benefits do differ slightly.
Information from – hrc.org, people-press.org and iglhrc.org.