The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights as married heterosexuals. The ruling could make New Jersey the second state in the nation to allow gay marriage. We speak with one of the seven gay couples who filed the lawsuit. [includes rush transcript]
The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights as married heterosexuals. The ruling could make New Jersey the second state in the nation to allow gay marriage. Until now, the only state to allow gay marriage was Massachusetts, while Vermont and Connecticut allow civil unions for gay couples.
Lawmakers will have six months to decide whether state law should allow same-sex couples the right to marriage or the right to civil unions. The ruling was approved by a vote of four to three. The dissenters say they voted against the ruling because they believe it doesn’t go far enough. The three judges say the ruling should have asserted gay couples” fundamental right to marriage rather than leaving it to lawmakers. On November 7, voters in eight states will vote on ballot measures limiting gay marriage or unions.
We are joined by Saundra Toby Heath and Alicia Heath Toby — one of the seven gay couples who filed the suit in New Jersey.
- Saundra Toby Heath, plaintiff in gay marriage lawsuit in New Jersey.
- Alicia Heath Toby plaintiff in gay marriage lawsuit in New Jersey.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two women. We’re joined by Saundra Toby Heath and Alicia Heath Toby. They’re one of the seven gay and lesbian couples who filed the suit in New Jersey. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Thank you.
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Thank you. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the decision?
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: A mix. It’s a mixture of being very happy and being not quite so pleased. I’m the eternal optimist of the two of us, so I did the glass is half-full, as opposed to half-empty, and I was very happy that all of the justices agreed that our rights had been violated. It told me that they did pay attention, that they were listening to our lawyers, that they were reading the briefs, hearing our stories, and maybe during the course of the four years where we were out in the public arena, maybe they were watching that, too. So I was feeling really good about that, that they were paying attention.
The three justices that dissented, I felt like they took it a step further. They opened their heart, you know, and they saw that we’re just like anyone else, you know, and we deserve to have equal rights, you know? The other four, I call them a work in progress. Maybe down the road they’ll get it, fully. But, you know, on the whole, I felt good. I just realized that the fight wasn’t over. So the next six months we’re going to be fighting probably harder than we fought in the four years we’ve been in this fight to get what we want, which is marriage.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Alicia, in terms of your decision to participate in this suit and to wage this campaign, what made you come to that decision and take such an active role in it?
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: My wife made me. My wife received a call, and I call her my wife because we had a ceremony in our home eight years ago.
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Seven.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Seven years ago. And she received a call from Lambda requesting an interview with us, and she was very excited, and she called me and said, “Lambda is sending someone to talk to us about participating in a lawsuit in New Jersey for the right to marry for same-sex couples.” And history was then made. I never questioned it. I never thought of saying no. I never was concerned about exposure. Our lives has always been an open book. I’ve always been out. I don’t know what the inside of a closet looks like. So it was very easy, it was very natural. It was very the right thing to do. And so, it never dawned on me to do anything other than what we are doing now.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And amazingly, the dissenting judges, who were taking the more liberal position, were appointed by Republican governors, whereas the ones who took the more conservative position were appointed by Democrats. Were you surprised about the breakdown of the judges?
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Well, see, I didn’t know that little bit of information. I was just — I don’t know if I was surprised at all by it. I didn’t know. I had no idea what the decision would be. I didn’t — when we left the Supreme Court that day, some months ago, I felt very hopeful. I felt very positive. But as our lawyer Dave Buckel said, you know, “Don’t attach a lot of importance to that, how you’re feeling, because you can be feeling like really uplifted and like this is going to happen, and, you know, maybe one of the justices would have a bad night the night before.” And you know what I mean? People are human, so you didn’t know. I really — I didn’t want to get my hopes up too, too high. So, you know, that’s where I was during this whole thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Alicia and Toby, can you tell us how you met? Tell us about your family. Tell us about the time you’ve been together.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Okay, it’s interesting that you say Alicia and Toby. That’s my mom’s name. We call our mom “Toby.”
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Alicia and Saundra.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: We met through a mutual friend. I was moving. I’m a New Yorker. And I’m going down, as such. But I was moving, and I was moving to New Jersey, and a friend of ours wasn’t even introducing us. She happened — Saundra happened to be with her at the time, and they visited me to talk about this move into this apartment that our mutual friend was leaving. And when I saw her, you know, I thought, “Oh, she’s very attractive,” and I didn’t think anything else of it.
And then I moved into the house in which she’d lived, and she had a space on the second floor, and I was moving to the third floor. And one day, she came up, and she gave me this whole inquisition about “Who are you? Where are you from? What does your mom do?” Like that whole — and from that, we became friends. And it was —- and then, once again, I never thought, you know, anything of it, though. We were just being friends. It’s nice to move into a new town and have somebody who knows the town and somebody that’s, you know -—
And one day, I said, “Wow! I think I love this woman.” And we went to dinner, and I said to her, “I think I love you,” and she’s sitting across from me, and she literally looks at me like I’m a blank sheet of paper. And I go, “Okay, I think I might have said too much.” And we just kept eating. It was almost like suspended in mid-air kind of thing. And, you know, we continued to just have a relationship and a friendship, and then on January 1st, we decided that we would be a couple. And this January, we will have been together —
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Eighteen years.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: — eighteen years.
AMY GOODMAN: Eighteen years?
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Eighteen years, and it has been —
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Quite an adventure.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: — quite an adventure.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re a pastor? You’re a reverend?
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Yes. I’m a reverend. I’m the assistant pastor at Liberation and Truth Unity Fellowship Church in Newark, New Jersey. And this — she’s my first lady. She’s my first lady.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about your last names.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: When we joined our lives, you know, because it’s not legal in New Jersey, we wanted to honor each other. And my maiden name is Toby, and so we wanted to keep our last names at the end just for legal purposes, so that we wouldn’t have a whole bunch of questions. And so, we decided to, by honoring each other, take each other’s names, but leaving our surnames at the end. And so, that’s how —
AMY GOODMAN: So, yours is?
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: My surname is Alicia. I was born Toby. And so, I took Heath. So I put Heath before my last, and she did the flip.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And now, of course, the court has put all of this in the hands of the legislature, the state legislature, to finally iron out how they will sanction unions. What do you do now, in terms of from here on in?
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Well, we work. We get out there, and we advocate. We become a tick on the behinds of the legislators. You know, we get in their ear and just annoy them. Bzzzzzz. You know, like I was telling my wife, this six months is probably going to — we’re probably going to work harder than we have the four years, four months in this lawsuit, you know, as far as just — you know, we just have that window of a hundred and, what is it, seventy-eight days now? You know, so my feeling is that we gotta work, work, work, work, work, find out, you know, the politicians that support us, the ones who are against us, and just, you know, sign petitions, send, you know, just a mass flood of information. And like my wife was speaking at the rally on Wednesday in Montclair, and she challenged the audience to become involved. It’s not just about the plaintiff couples, you know.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: One of the things that I’m most encouraged by, that it’s now not just about six-and-a-half couples, because, as you know, we lost one of the women. She passed away. So it’s not about the six-and-a-half of us anymore. It is about the public, the people, and that, in and of itself, is the most empowering thing about this whole thing.
So, do I believe in, you know, things happen? No, I believe that things happen for a reason, that there are no mistakes, and that this is an issue that impacts the people, and so now it is the people’s responsibility that really believe in the right thing, which is marriage, that they will get behind this thing, and then they will get in the trenches, and then they will get their hands dirty, and then they will do the work, because it really impacts the people. That is why we chose to do it, that it’s bigger than Saundra and I, that it’s about the rights of other people who identify and love the same ways in which we do. And now it’s their responsibility to get behind this thing, and if you really believe that you deserve to be married and that it be called “marriage,” then you will be compassionate and compelled and passionate about doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Your kids, their response?
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Our children —
AMY GOODMAN: How much children do you have?
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: We have two sons, her sons, and we have six grandchildren.
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Well, five.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Actually, five and one on the way. And, of course, you know, they had mixed feelings. First of all, they had mixed feelings about our relationship . But, you know, we’ve been together so long, and we’ve been loving each other and doing the same things that they do as heterosexual men. And when we decided to do this, I’m sure that they had some feelings around us being exposed and possibly being exposed, but we were very sensitive that we didn’t want to expose them in any way that they didn’t want to be exposed.
And I must say, if you ask either one of them, and even some of our grandbabies who can speak, they would say that we’re doing the right thing, that it’s important, that it’s about doing something for the bigger picture and beyond today, and they would say that their grandparents are activists and that they will stand up when no one else will. And that, in and of itself — you know, what my wife said the other day that she saves all of this stuff. I mean, she just has all these papers, newspapers. And she said, “One day we will sit with our grandchildren, and we will tell the stories, and they will hear them, and they will know that they come from greatness.” And that is so much greater than the moment.
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: Yeah, it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Alicia Heath Toby and Saundra Toby Heath, thanks very much for joining us.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Thank you.
SAUNDRA TOBY HEATH: You’re welcome.
ALICIA HEATH TOBY: Thank you. Thank you.