Remarks Celebrating Marriage Equality Anniversary and Discussing Work Needed to End Bullying

Jun 26, 2017

It’s good to be here in Ridgewood as we conclude Pride Month and celebrate the second anniversary of marriage equality becoming the law of the land.

I’m proud to see this flag behind me flying here this morning–it’s an important symbol that hate and intolerance have no place in our communities.

I know that other towns in our area, including Westwood, Glen Rock, and Rochelle Park, have similarly sent the welcome signal to the LGBT community. That’s progress we should all be proud of. Those are the Jersey values we should all celebrate.

We should all take this moment in Van Neste Square to honor the champions who helped raise this rainbow flag, here in our state and across the nation.

Beginning in 2004, New Jersey offered domestic partnerships – before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and before federal workplace protections against LGBT people.

Our own New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal Civil Unions and then, in 2013, in Garden State Equality v. Dow ruled that marriage – not partnerships, not civil unions – must be our state law.

In that opinion, New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote: “The state has advanced a number of arguments, but none of them overcome this reality: Same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.”

With New Jersey state recognition in 2013, and now with marriage equality across the country, same-sex couples have the right to marry and be treated equally under the law.

I couldn’t be more proud of that decision and to be from a state that understood that tolerance is not the same as respect, and it’s not the same as equality.

As the great LGBT rights icon, Harvey Milk, once said “It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom.”

Marriage equality for our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors means that we have been building healthier, happier, more successful communities for all.

Two years ago, in a watershed moment, the Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry was also guaranteed to same-sex couples. Some believe this was the final step in LGBT equality under the law, that the movement could pack up and go home. But as we gather here today, we know that is not the case.

That 5 to 4 U.S. Supreme Court decision, while a massive leap forward, didn’t end the discrimination that the LGBT community still face across the nation, even here in New Jersey.

That is why I recently introduced a bill called the Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act of 2017. When adopted, my bipartisan legislation will amend the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit credit discrimination on the basis sexual orientation.

Fifteen states, including New Jersey, already prohibit credit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but that leaves thirty-five states that don’t. That’s why we need federal legislation, so that prohibiting discrimination is the law of the land.

As a result of this gap, in too many states, LGBT individuals can still be denied a mortgage, a credit card, student loans, or other type of lending simply because of who they are and who they love.

All Americans should be free to pursue their dreams, whether that’s buying their first home, starting a business, or continuing their education. My bill would help ensure that. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do for our economy.

We’ll never be successful if we leave pockets of our community out in the cold, if we, in essence, have signs on our banks that say ‘gay people need not apply.’ Especially now, when we need broad based growth more than ever. We can’t tell hungry entrepreneurs that the American Dream just isn’t available to them. Or that a family can’t move into their new home.

Here’s the problem: We know that gay men earn between 18 and 30 percent less than their straight male counterparts. Lesbian women experience both a gender pay gap and are underrepresented in many high-paying fields.

LGBT families also face a wage gap. They typically make 20 percent less than families with straight parents.

In Congress, I was also proud to co-sponsor the Equality Act, a bipartisan bill that would amend existing civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and others, to include non-discrimination protections for members of the LGBT community.

There’s a reason that these bills are bipartisan. Ending discrimination is not a Republican or Democratic issue –it’s a good for America issue. It’s a good for the economy issue. And here in our state, it’s a Jersey Values issue.

Unfortunately, we know that legal discrimination and inequality are not the only obstacles faced by the LGBT community. Our children and young adults still face unacceptable discrimination and bullying. LGBT kids are twice as likely than their peers to be kicked, shoved or assaulted.

Sixty-eight percent of LGBT youth say they have heard negative and hurtful things from elected leaders about their community, and a quarter say their biggest concern in life is that their families will not accept them.

As a parent, these statistic are simply heartbreaking. Every child should feel that he or she is loved and belongs.

And most sobering: an estimated thirty percent of youth suicides are believed to be linked to struggling with sexual identity.

I’m proud to stand here today beside Jane Clementi and honor the memory and legacy of her son. Tyler was from here Ridgewood and he felt driven to suicide because he didn’t believe the world was changing toward acceptance. Despite his mother’s love, he felt left out in the cold.

I was honored to meet with Tyler’s mother Jane earlier this year in the U.S. Capitol, and I am proud to stand beside her now as we work to end bullying and harassment, including supporting prudent and thoughtful legislation in Congress like the Safe Schools Improvement Act. It’s a bill the Tyler Clementi Foundation backs to require schools to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment.

While we aren’t at the promise land just yet, we are making critical progress and there is plenty of light shining down on us today. I can see that rainbow through the clouds.

Thanks to Jane’s work, Tim’s efforts, Garden State Equality, and so many others, seventy-five percent of LGBT youth now say they believe the world is becoming more accepting and that things will get better.

We live in the greatest country in the world, and I fundamentally believe that tomorrow will be better than today. As parents, and as leaders, it is our job to make sure we keep making New Jersey, this nation, and the world a better place for all of our children.

We stand here today to recommit ourselves to doing just that.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.


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