Family Ties

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:14

    SPARTA -They are just like any other young couple. They are in their 20s, both live and work in Sussex County, and are currently helping to raise a 9-year-old child. On a regular basis, they attend baseball games, help with their son's homework, and parent to the best of their abilities. Although they live together, they are not married, which means they cannot file for joint taxes. It also means that they do not enjoy lower medical, automobile, or renter's insurance. They both feel that marriage is an avenue they would like to pursue. However, the choice is not theirs. It is in the hands of the government. Both partners in the relationship are women, and the state of New Jersey does not recognize gay marriage, although last week it moved closer by approving civil unions. If it were up to this couple, they would have already made their lifetime commitment to one another. Under their current status with the state, they are considered to be domestic partners, which provides some but not all of the legal benefits of marriage. One partner, who went by the name "Jennifer" for this story, said that she was grateful that even before the change, her job offered her partner benefits because it does not have to by law, but added that it is still not equal to what married couples receive. "Unlike any other working person insuring a dependent, whether it be a spouse or a child, an extra tax comes out of my paycheck for having domestic partner benefits," said Jennifer. "Why does my paycheck look different from someone's who's married?" Currently, Massachusetts is the only state in the country allowing people of the same sex to wed. Jennifer and her partner are currently planning to make the trip to Massachusetts to make their union legal. They plan to then come back to New Jersey to celebrate their union with friends and family in Sussex County. Jennifer said that growing up in Sparta has always caused her to hide her different lifestyle. "It is a very conservative place, and growing up, I had a fear of who I was," said Jennifer. Moving to another town but staying within the county, she "came out" six years ago and hopes to see Sussex County "make progress" when it comes to gay equity issues like marriage. "What I don't think many people understand is just how normal our home is," said Jennifer, explaining that her life does not consist of club scenes or pride festivals, images that are often portrayed of her lifestyle. "As a family, we live no differently than other people in Sussex County," she said. "I work, and I put my son on the bus in the morning, and his life consists of sports, after-school activities, and school plays." Jennifer's son recalled the story of when he once brought in a picture of his mom and partner for a school project called "The Star of the Week." After telling the class who they were, one child asked him what a partner was. "You'll understand when you're older," was his response. When asked how he felt about the issue, the young boy said that he does not know why his parents would not be allowed to marry. "If two people love each other, what does it matter? They are able to give me everything that I need," he said, adding that he was proud of his parents. "Although New Jersey has begun to recognize domestic partnerships, they are still failing to recognize the fact that this is a committed relationship that should be called a marriage. We wear rings just as heterosexual couples and raise our family just as heterosexuals," said Jennifer in an interview this week. "As a couple, we are pleased to have some of the same rights, such as filing for joint tax returns and being able to make medical decisions for each other. I still have to call the person I love my partner rather than my wife.