Christie belatedly (and shrewdly) does the right thing

Orville Bell (left) and Joseph Panessidi embrace after Mayor and Sen.-elect Cory Booker (right) pronounced them spouses in Newark.
Orville Bell (left) and Joseph Panessidi embrace after Mayor and Sen.-elect Cory Booker (right) pronounced them spouses in Newark. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 23, 2013

A hand lands amiably on my shoulder.

I turn to face a woman who's wearing a fabulous dress, stylish heels, and a startled expression.

"Sorry," she says, gently withdrawing her hand. "I thought you were my husband."

We're at an elegant gay wedding, so perhaps a classy, yet sassy, riposte is in order.

But as she chuckles, "My husband and you have the same bald spot," I'm speechless. Also, destroyed.

"The honeymoon's over," I say (to myself) as one of my pals quips, "Only you would be mistaken for a straight guy - at a gay wedding."

This state-sanctioned marriage between two fine fellows took place in Delaware on Oct. 13.

Five days later, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously denied Gov. Christie's request to stay a lower-court ruling that his state's civil unions were a subpar substitute for the real thing.

Thus, same-sex couples qualifying for marriage licenses in their New Jersey hometowns late last week were eligible to wed beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Hours later, our ever-pragmatic (and congenitally shrewd) governor announced his withdrawal of the appeal - a blessing, albeit backhanded, for full marriage equality in the Garden State.

Christie's move also preempts what might well have been the first successful veto override of his Trenton career. Is this guy good or what?

Meanwhile, media photos of same-sex newlyweds from across the state remind me of how it felt to watch my made-for-each-other friends exchange vows at the Dupont Country Club.

As New Jersey becomes the 14th state (Yo, Pennsylvania?) to fully embrace its gay citizens, perhaps my memorable day in Delaware offers a glimpse of the future.

Like the two grooms, the guests at the gala were middle-aged and middle-class, the grown-up family and friends of two adults lucky enough to find each other in this often heartbreaking world.

They - we - weren't a gang of revolutionaries out to undermine marriage; we were witnesses to the exercise of a civil right that enriches it.

Christie had long sought a voter referendum on what he called the "redefining" of a "2,000-year-old institution."

But secular equality for same-sex couples doesn't "redefine" any religious belief or ceremony, or diminish a sacred institution. It ensures equal access to a civil institution by committed same-sex couples pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.

I know couples who, despite sharing their lives for decades, have had to cobble together intricate legal arrangements/agreements to protect themselves and their assets. Until now they've had to settle for a stigmatizing knockoff called "civil union." If these cumbersome concoctions are equal in all but name to marriage, then why not simply call them marriage?

The biggest fan of these separate and unequal civil unions I ever saw was a witness who testified against marriage equality during a New Jersey legislative committee hearing in 2012.

The man passionately insisted that gays ought to be satisfied with that facsimile of marriage because they/we couldn't possibly experience the beauty of the love he shared with his wife.

I can't imagine what methodology would produce such a conclusion. But clearly, the man spoke from the heart.

Now, in New Jersey, as in Delaware and a dozen other states and the District of Columbia, civil marriage - with its rights, privileges, responsibilities, and benefits - will be available to gay couples who also speak from the heart.

At the wedding outside Wilmington, I was in the last row of the white chairs arranged on the club's lush lawn. The woman who briefly believed herself my wife had found her real husband somewhere up front. But when John and Robert said "I do," all of us were family.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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