Rutgers sociology professor Arlene Stein reminds us that while many middle-class gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey may be celebrating the spread of marriage equality just across the Hudson (or entering into civil unions in the Garden State), lower-income community members are far less interested about joining the institution:
Several years ago, Mayor Cory Booker appointed a commission to deal with the concerns of Newark’s gay/lesbian communities. And a local group is collecting the stories of gay Newarkers in preparation for a conference at Rutgers in November. But the right to marry is not high on their list of priorities. As of last month, eight times as many Maplewood couples had obtained civil unions as those in Newark — though the population of Newark is 12 times larger.
The comparison of Maplewood and Newark raises questions about whether same-sex marriage is a one-size-fits-all solution. For those who wish to publicly affirm their relationships, and establish legal and economic bonds — like middle-class families in Maplewood — marriage is a no-brainer.
But those in the lowest ranks of the workforce, the bulk of Newark’s population, are less likely to have jobs with benefits and are more likely to be coupled with people who don’t either. And since they’re also less likely to own property, they’re unlikely to be very concerned with questions of inheritance. Gays and lesbians in Newark are also more likely to be embedded in family networks, less likely to move away from their families of origin in order to act on their homosexuality, and consequently they are less likely to construct identities in which sexuality is primary — and they have less incentive to marry.
Indeed, as its first priority, Booker’s LGBT Commission seeks to bring “an end to harassment, bullying, discrimination, economic and health care disparities, whether in the workplace, public, educational and/or healthcare setting and promote education, social and institutional sensitivity.” The right to marry is nowhere to be found.