New Jersey’s Governor signed into law the bill to legalize civil unions in the state, passed in wake of a court decision requiring the legislature to do so. This is only a partial victory for reasons Pam discussed when the legislature passed the bill – for example, civil unions only confer state-level rights but not federal rights.
However, this partial victory is enough to showcase that progressive activism can succeed. While the reformist attitude toward change centers on fixing what everyone knows is broken and on electoral and legislative methods, the progressive attitude centers on social and legal action.
The Massachusetts decision in 2003 triggered a short backlash against gay marriage. The New Jersey decision three years later, in which the dissenters argued for full gay marriage, didn’t help the Republican Party hold its Congressional majority in an election less than two weeks later.
As even the states that did ban gay marriage after the Massachusetts decision never recognized single-sex relationships in the first place, these rulings were all gain, no pain for gay rights activists. While Democrats insist on not taking action on any issue that polls less than 70% – higher than civil unions, which are at 60% – liberals keep prodding, increasing their issues’ support on the way. New Jersey’s new status as the largest state in the US that permits civil unions is a direct result of that activism.