By John Burton
Since the state Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages in the Garden State to go forward last month, at least 33 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples in the Two River area.
“I have to honestly say, whether we’re a same-sex couple or not, the feeling of being married is incredible and I’m sure the same for every human being,” said Bernadette Hauck who married her longtime life-partner, Laura Kull, on Sunday, Nov. 24, in Little Silver.
The couple, Little Silver residents, were married at borough hall with Mayor Robert C. Neff Jr. officiating, and with about 50 of their closest friends and family members attending the reception held in the couple’s home.
“We are on cloud nine right now,” Hauck said the day after their ceremony. “This is after 18 years of together and 25 years of friendship.”
Kull agreed. “Having the opportunity to have that special day, that everyone else can have and have our love validated, it was a wonderful feeling.”
The state Supreme Court voted unanimously Oct. 18 to allow same-sex marriages to go forward, upholding a lower court decision and denying the Christie administration’s request for a stay until an appeal could be heard. Shortly after, Christie decided to drop plans to appeal. With that, people began applying to the registrars in their hometowns to be able to marry.
Since that time, Red Bank has issued seven licenses; Middletown, 10; Atlantic Highlands, four with another in the works; Highlands and Holmdel each have had three; Little Silver has had about three; Rumson, Fair Haven and Shrewsbury have all had one each; and Colts Neck, Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach have yet to process any.
Under the directive state Attorney General Stuart Rabner issued several years ago, when the state first permitted same-sex civil unions, members of the clergy may refuse to solemnize the marriage “based upon sincerely held religious beliefs.” However, a public official, who has the legal authority to perform marriages and “elects to be available generally for the purpose of solemnizing marriages” has to be available generally for same-sex couples. Any attempt to distinguish between the two “would violate the Law Against Discrimination,” Rabner ruled.
The Rev. Virginia Jarocha-Ernst, the minister with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County in Lincroft, said she readily embraced performing the ceremonies and has officiated at four same-sex marriage ceremonies and has one more pending.
She sees the ability of all to legally marry as a civil and human rights issue. “Everyone should be treated fairly,” she said. There are practical considerations, including those concerning property ownership, insurance, end-of-life decisions and minor children, she noted.
“It’s hard enough being a solid family in our culture and to stack the deck against certain families is basically unfair,” Jarocha-Ernst said.
“We’re not activists, we just considered our lives and we thought it should be,” Hauck said. She and Kull entered into a domestic partnership when that became available, and then a civil union a few years ago. “Marriage was the natural progression of our journey together.”
Little Silver Mayor Robert C. Neff Jr. said he’s known the couple for many years. “The fact is, if a marriage is going to work between two people, they ought to be able to get married and I really don’t care what sex they are.”
And for this couple, Neff added, “I have all the confidence in the world that this will be a terrific marriage.”
Edward Zipprich, a Red Bank borough councilman, and his partner, JP Nicolaides, were one of two couples that had a double wedding at midnight Oct. 21, making them the first same-sex couples married in Red Bank.
“I have to say it felt like we got an upgrade,” Zipprich said. “Our civil rights were upgraded from a second class civil union to an equal marriage.”
Nicolaides and Zipprich have been in a relationship for 17 years and they too had a civil union a few years ago. The difference between civil unions and marriage is not a distinction without a difference, Zipprich stressed.
“The significance is that we’re equal under the law,” he said of laws that permit same-sex marriage in 16 states. “As you look up and down the East Coast, from Washington, D.C., to Maine, it’s the law and will be normal for young folks growing up.”
Hauck said that “Politically … the country is going in the right direction.” That will make it easier for future generations. “We grew up in a time when you didn’t say anything,” she said.
“It’s nice to know we have the legal backing for it,” Kull added.
“It’s a generation late” in allowing gay marriages, coming about two decades behind many western, industrialized nations, said Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna, who has officiated at eight same sex marriages in the last month. He has three more scheduled in the coming weeks.
“It’s a human rights issue, it’s an equality issue,” one that should be embraced by government and its officials, he said. “The question is not about someone not accepting it,” individuals can hold their own beliefs, he said. “The question is of civil government accepting it and civil government has to accept all of its citizens in the same fashion.”
Atlantic Highlands Republican Mayor Frederick J. Rast III, who has performed two ceremonies recently, said, “Look, I’m a very conservative guy in a lot of respects. I have an obligation to perform them.” But officiating at the marriage ceremonies goes beyond any political leanings, he stressed. “I do things according to my heart. People who have been together a long time, love each other, are committed to each other, God bless ’em. They deserve to be together.”
The two couples are people Rast has known for many years. “They’re good productive citizens,” and he supports “their choice in life.”
Since being ordained in 2001, Jarocha-Ernst said she’s performed many weddings and has noticed something about some of these same-sex ceremonies, which are often small, modest affairs.
“The ceremony where something people hold dear is finally granted are some of the most meaningful wedding ceremonies,” she said. “They might not be fancy, but it goes to the essence of what a marriage is about.”