Maybe. It looks like there might be a somewhat happy ending or a positive outcome to Laurel Hester’s story, if the New Jersey state legislature finally does right by gay and lesbian couples and families in a vote scheduled for Monday, which would extend a few rights and protections to same-sex couples in domestic partnership.
The New Jersey Senate late Thursday passed sweeping amendments to the state’s domestic partner law that would, upon a partner’s death, give the surviving partner control of the estate and inheritance in the absence of a will.
The legislation also would give the surviving partner control of burial decisions absent a directive otherwise.
In a vote that stunned even LGBT civil rights advocates the Senate vote was unanimous – 35-to-0.
"This is the most lopsided pro-LGBTI-rights vote in New Jersey history and one of the most lopsided pro-gay votes in American history," Garden State Equality spokesperson Steven Goldstein told 365Gay.com
The bill must still be approved by the Assembly. A vote is scheduled for Monday.
The widespread support for the measure, said Goldstein, is the impact Lieutenant Laurel Hester has had in the state.
If Hester’s story helped show the New Jersey Senate that there’s a real human price paid for compromising to placate the likes of the Ocean County Freeholders and their constituents, great. But, and this is not to be a wet blanket or anything, but it’s also important to remember that while this may be a victory it’s a rather small one.
But even with the revisions passed by the Senate Thursday night same-sex couples will not have any of the more than 1,000 rights straight couples get through marriage Goldstein said.
"The New Jersey partnership law will provide only about 10 of the 1,049 rights of marriage," he told 365Gay.com "That’s less than one per cent – so we are not going to rest until we get 100 percent of marriage equality."
It’s also important to remember what’s not reported in this story. The big compromise in the New Jersey domestic partnership law as I understand it (and if anyone can further clarify this, please do) is that the law permits cities, counties, etc., to establish domestic partnership benefits for their employees but does not require them to. That was the compromise deemed necessary to get is passed two years ago.
Unless the amendment changes that — and requires cities, counties, etc., to establish domestic partnership benefits — the vote on Thursday and the one scheduled for Monday will do nothing to help Laurel Hester. The Ocean County Freeholders have steadfastly refused to pass a resolution that would grand county employees domestic partnership benefits and thus allow Hester’s partner to keep their home when Hester dies of lung cancer.
The amendment to the domestic partnership law will not require the Ocean County Freeholders to budge one inch from their "values," which I think are pretty well paraphrased by this "letter to the editor" in which the writer notes Hester’s "unfortunate position," blames her for it, and then stands by the Ocean County Freeholders.
The Ocean County freeholders did the right thing by denying pension benefits to Lt. Laurel Hester’s domestic partner. Pension plans have strict rules about entitlements to determine benefits.
While Hester is in an unfortunate position, she should have been well aware of how the pension plan made its distributions. She should have made personal contributions to an Individual Retirement Account or in some savings plan that would provide for her partner. Legally, the pension plan does not provide for her situation. For her to ask for special treatment is unfair to everyone who contributes to the plan.
With the underfunding of pension plans and the longer life span of pension recipients, pension plans are going to be a thing of the past. This decision has nothing to do with gay rights or a comparison to Rosa Parks. This was based on the facts.
The county or state should not bend the rules because of their personal situations. We’re all going to die. It’s up to individuals to make sure our loved ones are taken care of — not the county, not the state and not the taxpayers.
Of course, this leaves out the fact that one of the freeholders initially cited the "sanctity of marriage" as a reason for denying Hester’s request. And nevermind that straight folks don’t have to make any special arrangements beyond saying "I do." If that’s not discrimination, then nothing is. But that’s compassionate conservatism for ya, folks. Lie about the facts. Shake your head over someone in an "unfortunate position," blame them for it, and do nothing further about it. And these are the folks we’re compromising with while folks like Laurel Hester pay the price.
Still, at least the New Jersey Senate has finally taken a half-step towards kinda, sorta, almost doing the right thing. It’s very little and very late, but I suppose it’s better than nothing which is what Laurel Hester will likely get, whether the Assembly passes the amendment on Monday or not.