News, Wit & Commentary for Lesbians
JIC Post:CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) – Rosalind Heggs and Paula Long drove their red Ford Mustang convertible to Vermont for their civil union ceremony on Sept. 8, 2001. “I had that happily-ever-after feeling,” Long, 46, said of the Camden couple’s weekend, which included a church service and a stay in a honeymoon suite in one of the only states that officially recognize gay and lesbian couples. “We were a couple and that’s the way it was going to be.” But Long said that back home in New Jersey, acceptance of her legal relationship with Heggs has been elusive. Long and Heggs are among many same-sex couples pushing to make same-sex marriage legal in New Jersey, rather than celebrating the one-year anniversary of a domestic partnership law they say isn’t expansive enough. In March, Heggs, a 55-year-old nurse, suffered a heart attack, a stroke and two collapsed lungs. The couple said that for medical consent, officials at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden called Heggs’ sister in Maryland, even though Long was in the hospital room. And when nurses removed Heggs’ wedding ring, they put it in a safe rather than giving it to Long, they said. Eventually, Long said, the hospital apologized after recognizing the state’s new law entitled her to make medical decisions for her partner and hold the ring. Citing privacy laws, hospital spokesperson Wendy Marano would not comment on the case. The experience made the couple long to be married so that their relationship would not be subject to legal questions or confusion. Last July, New Jersey became the fifth state in the nation to recognize same-sex couples with a domestic partnership law. The law extends some tax and health insurance benefits to same-sex couples, but does not allow them to marry. The law gives couples who register the right to file state tax returns jointly and to be exempt from state inheritance taxes if one partner dies. It also requires insurance companies to offer plans with benefits for same-sex partners. But employers, except for the state government, are not required to offer those plans to their employees. Same-sex couples are eligible for the benefits, as are unmarried heterosexual couples where at least one partner is 62 or older. So far, judges in New Jersey have ruled the state constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage. The matter is likely to be heard by the state Supreme Court in the next year. If same-sex marriage is allowed by the court, opponents are likely to propose amending the state constitution to override the ruling. That’s what has happened in Massachusetts, the only state where a court has allowed same-sex marriage so far. In New Jersey, though, there has not been a serious attempt to bar same-sex marriage. Perhaps that is because residents of New Jersey, like those of other states in the Northeast, are more open to the idea. Major public opinion polls over the past year have found that anywhere from 43 to 55 percent of the state’s residents support same-sex marriage. But if the court rules against same-sex marriage, it is likely advocates will turn their attention back to the domestic partnership law and try to add to the rights and privileges it offers.
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