For Laurel Hester, it’s come down to begging. After 24 years of service to her community, as an investigator for the county prosecutors office, Hester is now reduced to begging that simple justice and basic humanity for her family. Hester’s fighting two battles, one against lung cancer and another against a conservative county government that refuses to grant domestic partnership benefits that would help Hester’s partner keep their home after her passing.
Right now, she’s losing both battles. Last night, after Hester (now too weak to stand) sat before them to plead her case again, in true compassionate conservative fashion the freeholders turned their backs on Hester again.
A New Jersey gay activist group wants people to boycott Ocean County’s chief industry, tourism, because the Board of Freeholders won’t permit a veteran, dying police officer to will her pension benefits to her domestic partner.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, pleaded with the board at Wednesday night’s meeting on behalf of Lt. Laurel Hester, who is dying of metastasized lung cancer.
“I beg you, beg you with all my heart” to pass a resolution allowing the domestic partner benefits, he said. Hester, an investigator for the county Prosecutor’s Office for 24 years, has been lobbying for the benefit since this summer.
Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari tried to explain to the standing-room-only crowd why the board could not comply. The board has said previously it is a matter of money. Vicari was jeered and abruptly ended the meeting.
One of the freeholders trotted out the tired old excuse of “cost issues” as the reason for denying the benefits, but just a couple of weeks ago another freeholder made it clear that it was concern for the “sanctity of marriage” that led the to deny Hester’s request the first time.
At least one freeholder, John P. Kelly, the law and public safety chairman, has cited moral reservations, telling the Asbury Park Press it violates “the sanctity of marriage.”
Kelly declined to speak to The Star-Ledger, as did Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari.
But, hey, if looking into the face of a dying woman and denying her justice — after she dedicated her life to working on behalf of justice — falls within the their “values,” lying isn’t a problem either.
So, now what? You could call them on it, but it’s clear at this point that the county’s conservative governors aren’t going to listen. If they don’t listen to group of community members packing the room, what are the chances of them heeding the ravings of bunch of yahoos from somewhere on the web?
Some members of the community who’ve been supporting Hester and her partner throughout this ordeal have suggested launching boycott that would strike at the county’s tourist industry.
“The lesbian and gay community across the state and the country are going to actively implement an economic boycott against Ocean County,” Goldstein said after the meeting ended.
Garden State Equality plans to advertise nationally and internationally that the Ocean County freeholders are anti-gay and that people should spend their vacation money elsewhere.
My initial response to a boycott would normally be that it would probably also hurt people and businesses that are supportive of benefits for Hester and Andree, and in support of gay & lesbian equality in general. That’s enough to make me think twice about a boycott, but at this point what other options are there? Hester doesn’t probably doesn’t have much time, and it’s clear the freeholders aren’t going to be reasoned with.
Given the circumstances, I’d suggest taking the boycott beyond telling people to spend their vacation money somewhere other than Ocean County. I’d make the message “Buy Nothing in Ocean County,” just in time for the holidays. Buy nothing in Ocean County until the Freeholders do right by Hester and the county’s other gay & lesbian employees.
My guess is that whatever the Freeholders and folks like them don’t understand about justice, morality, and basic human decency, the understand money perfectly well. And if they figure out that the bigotry they’re passing off as “values” is costing the county money, and maybe costing them support as a result, I bet their “values” will change pretty quickly.
And if it hurts some supporters? Well, desperate times call for desperate measure, and I can’t imagine much more desperate than what Hester and her partner are fighting. But if anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.