This story begins in December. That's when New Jersey approved civil unions. The legislation, while falling short of approving same-sex marriage, provides gays and lesbians with the rights and benefits of marriage. The legislation took effect in February, with dozens of gay and lesbian couples showing up at city halls around the state to register.
One of those couples was Stephen Lourie and Frank Pisciotta, who live in a senior community in one of the towns covered by one of my papers. The couple invited us to their ceremony, which was taking place before a judge, so I sent a reporter and photographer and we ran a front-page story and photo the next week.
In response, there were cancellations of the paper and some choice words offered -- including one letter writer who essentially compared me to the wicked of Sodom -- but that's fine. We ran the story because it was a good story on an important topic.
But the story doesn't end there. I was angry. I ran a front-page note (as well as a blog item) explaining our decision to run the piece. Forget my personal belief that same-sex marriage should be legal; the news is news, a story is a story. The issue is not whether we agree with what we write but whether it warrants coverage.
The response was surprising. About three times as many applauded the paper's decision to run the story.
One, a former resident of the area who now lives in New York City, offered this response:
"I am 100 percent homosexual," he wrote. "Always have been, always will be. It's sad that people still have hatred for gay people and are small minded but good for you for printing a story like that. The world changes because of journalists like you."
And this one, from a neighbor of the gay couple we wrote about:
"My husband and I along with many of our friends are supportive of the wonderful human interest story of the civil union of Steve Lourie and Frank Pisciotta, who finally earned the rights so long denied them," she wrote. "They are fine human beings and we are happy to call them friends. We wish them the best. Please don't let angry, small-minded people deter you from reporting on important issues that have an impact on real human beings."
Others offered similar responses, but the common element in all of them was their support for both the newspaper and the gay couple. Their responses offered what I think is a glimpse into the future, one in which the kind of tactics used by Republicans to divide the electorate and obscure the real economic issues plaguing workers in states like Ohio will eventually loose their effectiveness.
Admittedly, I live on the East Coast in a state with a Democratic governor, Democratic Legislature and Democratic Congressional majority. But Western and Midwestern states like Arizona and Indiana recently have turned back proposed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while polls show that younger voters are more likely to support civil unions and same-sex marriage than the population at large creating a generation gap that makes the legalization of gay marriage seem inevitable.
The definition of marriage is changing -- far more slowly than many of us would like, but changes are happening. There is a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians in American culture -- two-thirds of those polled by Newsweek in March said they supported the rights of gays and lesbians to serve in the military -- and this growing tolerance will help move marriage along in its historical evolution.
Remember, as columnist C.W. Nevius wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle several years ago, the Roman Catholic Church did not make marriage a sacrament until the 12th century and it took until 1967 for the US Supreme Court to strike down state laws that prohibited mixed-race couples from marrying -- laws that seem impossible to believe now.
Marriage is an evolving institution and the responses that I received from my readers after I made public the criticism of our civil-union story only confirm for me that gay-marriage opponents are on the wrong side of history.
Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. Email email@example.com and see his blog, Channel Surfing, at www.kaletblog.com.
Subscribe to The Progressive Populist