Separate but unequal

The first politics forum of the semester kicked off last Thursday as Reed Gusciora, state assemblyman and professor of political science at the College, criticized the current New Jersey State and White House positions on same-sex marriage.

“There isn’t really equality in New Jersey,” Gusciora said, referring to the recent Supreme Court decision on civil unions.

Gusciora, a Democrat from the 15th District, which includes Ewing, Trenton, Princeton and the other surrounding municipalities, is the first openly gay legislator in New Jersey history. Close to 40 students and teachers crowded into a small conference room in the Social Sciences Building to hear the assemblyman discuss whether civil unions mean full equality or are merely separate but equal.

Gusciora cited the similarities between Hawaii, Vermont and New Jersey. Each state’s Supreme Court has ruled that civil unions must be allowed in the state. Marriage, however, has been an entirely different issue. Massachusetts remains the only state to grant full equality in terms of marriage.

Gusciora has been at the forefront of this issue in New Jersey. Recently, he introduced a bill to allow full marriage rights for same-sex couples, but it was met with too much opposition. “Even though the Speaker supports it, my bill just does not have the votes in the legislature to pass,” Gusciora said.

“Within the gay community,” Gusciora said, “different views persist on civil unions. Some do not want to be relegated to a second class citizen under any circumstance; others just say, ‘I want the rights.'”

According to Gusciora, while the gay community is split, the religious – especially the Catholic – community holds a strong anti-marriage stance on the issue. When asked about his Catholic upbringing and education Gusciora was unfazed.

“It is the Christian way to have understanding. And when you understand that it is something genetically based, and you understand that to treat someone as you would treat yourself is the best way to live, then you are being a good Christian,” Gusciora said.

Gusciora, however, had some harsh words for fellow Christian George W. Bush on the issue, citing discriminatory practices against gays from the president. “Fifty-seven Arab language specialists, who soldiers rely on day in and day out, have been discharged from their jobs for simply being gay. George Bush would rather see our national security jeopardized then allow these specialists to work,” Gusciora said.

He also held that the United States is behind the curve on the issue in a world-wide sense. “Countries all over the world – Spain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic – these countries are all adopting civil marriages,” Gusciora said.

Reactions to Gusciora were mixed among those in attendance. “I felt he was somewhat biased because of his sexuality,” Aaliyah Ali, freshman political science and philosophy major, said. On the other hand, professor Stuart Koch of the Political Science department felt Gusciora had some important things to say for the future of this debate in New Jersey.

“I felt the assemblyman had two significant arguments he was trying to get across: the first was that gay marriage was about basic equality, and the second was how there were economic benefits for the New Jersey state government in the form of tourism dollars,” Koch said.

Koch added, “Gusciora also had a point when he said voters of a younger age were more sympathetic to his cause. How long will it be until they exert more influence on New Jersey politics?”

Gusciora, who had to leave early to attend an Assembly meeting, concluded with a similar sentiment. “Over time society will grow up,” he said. “And eventually people will realize that no one is being hurt by same-sex marriage.”