On the day that gay and lesbian couples could legally marry in New York for the first time, roughly 150 New Jersey residents rallied for marriage equality at Pier A Park.
“New Jersey needs marriage equality," Mayor Dawn Zimmer told the roughly 150 activists on Sunday afternoon, "and we need it now."
U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, Congressman Frank Pallone and State Senator Ray Lesniak also attended to show their support for the cause. Activist group Garden State Equality and the Lambda Legal foundation organized Sunday's rally.
New Jersey currently sanctions civil unions instead of legal marriage for gay couples. Gov. Chris Christie has publicly expressed his opposition to gay marriage. Even if a marriage equality bill is passed by the state legislature, Christie will have the right to veto it.
“The governor's views are not those of New Jersey," said Garden State Equality chairman Steven Goldstein. "Ours are."
Lautenberg and Pallone spoke about federal options for increasing gay marriage recognition in the states, including potentially repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states the right to ignore gay marriages performed in other states. The act also denies gay couples more than 1,000 other federal rights protected for heterosexual spouses.
“Why should we discriminate?” Lautenberg said.
Lesniak said the Democratic Party in New Jersey is rallying to recruit the five Republican senators necessary to overturn a veto from Christie. So far, Lesniak said, Democrats have recruited Republican State Senator Jennifer Beck of Monmouth.
Citing the new law in New York and the recent repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prevented gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, Pallone said he is optimistic that gay marriage will soon be recognized in more places.
Middlesex County residents Marsha Shapiro and Louise Walpin, who attended Sunday's rally, said they were married in a religious ceremony 19 years ago and raised children together.
But, Walpin said, “no one understands what a civil union is.” The couple cited hospital visitation rights as a particular example of a distinction between the rights of gay and straight couples.
Shapiro and Walpin are plaintiffs in a lawsuit recently filed by the Lambda Legal foundation that claims that the New Jersey civil union law fails to guarantee spousal rights that were promised when the legislation was passed in 2006.
“The time is now for us not to be treated as second-class citizens,” Shapiro said.
Other gay couples in the crowd seemed to share the same sense of urgency.
“It's inspiring to see New York take the next step," said Robert Johnson of Jersey City. "Hopefully New Jersey is right behind."
Johnson attended the rally with his partner Hector Contreras. They married in Massachusetts—where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004—three weeks ago. New York is the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
“We didn't want to wait,” Contreras said. He and Johnson have been together for three years. They considered a New Jersey civil union but decided against it after speaking with an attorney.
“Our lawyer said that civil unions weren't nearly as good,” Contreras said. He added that if New Jersey were to legalize gay marriage he hoped the state would recognize the certificate he and Johnson obtained in Massachusetts.
“Or," Contreras said, "we'll just get married again here."