When my then-fiance Drew and I discovered Hawthorne, New Jersey during our home search, one of the biggest selling points was the friendly, welcoming, and inclusive qualities of the community. While stopping for lunch in town during our open house visits we were greeted with friendly smiles and advice on which other restaurants we should check out. During our home inspection, once we finally found the perfect property, a neighbor stopped by to drop off a bottle of champagne as a welcome gift. On another visit, we were greeted with home-baked goods and nothing but smiles.
This warm and welcoming atmosphere was exactly what we had been searching for. We visited countless towns; many with fancier downtown shopping areas and more convenient train stations for the commute into NYC. It was Hawthorne, though, that we chose to call our home based on the feeling that once you live here you are welcomed and included into a friendly, open, and caring community.
In the years since Hawthorne has more than lived up to that. We have witnessed many of our neighbors coming together to celebrate and support each other in times good and bad. There is one way, however, that Hawthorne has sadly failed to live up to societal and our personal expectations for inclusivity.
Before we had even closed on our home, Drew and I decided we wanted to get married in our new hometown to celebrate the start of our new life. Both of our families lived in different parts of the country and we knew we’d be celebrating with them later in the year and figured why not have a small civil service to cement this new life we were building together?
Within days of closing on our home, we visited Hawthorne Borough Hall and applied for a marriage license. Everything went smoothly and several days later we went back to pick up our license and asked when we could schedule a civil ceremony with the mayor to celebrate our new adventure and home. This is when things took a disappointing turn.
Upon asking the clerk at the counter, who had been very kind and helpful throughout the process, when we could have the ceremony performed, they replied: “We can’t marry you here...because of the gays.” They then handed us a pre-printed list of local judges and officials in neighboring towns that have a better moral compass and aren’t afraid to take part in providing marriage services to all as a constitutional right without regard to their sexual orientation.
We would later come to learn that Hawthorne, New Jersey has a completely repugnant and backward unofficial policy. The elected and appointed officials that typically would perform civil services will not marry any individuals that apply for a marriage license since they won’t perform the same services for same-sex couples. The logic, faulty and ridiculous as it may seem, is that the officials stay in compliance with any legal argument of discrimination if they simply refuse to perform any ceremony all-together instead of singling out same-sex couples.
I later confirmed this during a conversation with Mayor Richard Goldberg at the Taste of Hawthorne annual event. I told him point-blank that Drew and I were highly disappointed and had been looking forward to starting off our marriage in our own community and instead were met with this policy. Perhaps not understanding why I was upset, the Mayor replied that “Well, we are a Catholic town,” and then followed up with, if he had known us personally he would have been happy to marry us.
As proud supporters of the LGBTQ community Drew and I were mortified. Whether same-sex couples are entitled to marry shouldn’t even be a consideration in today’s day and age. Even if you have some misguided need to hold onto a moral objection, in 2015 the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges confirmed that same-sex marriage is legal across the United States. Creating a policy that the Borough staff and officials do not provide marriage services to anyone because you choose to continue to be biased and not marry some is a questionable legal strategy but an unacceptable moral one.
There is no benefit to Hawthorne by acting exclusionary to the same-sex families of our community or state. We attract no greater amount of tax dollars, no richer, more diverse community members, and no additional culture and understanding by setting policies that target a specific demographic. Instead, we develop a reputation for being unfriendly or homophobic, we drive away potential families that may want to get involved and help Hawthorne grow, and we undermine our reputation for being a stigma-free, welcoming community. This policy makes us less, not more.
With this letter, I call upon Mayor Goldberg to immediately cease this stealth policy of not offering marriage services to any and all residents that seek to exercise their legal right to marry. If your personal and religious views prevent you from personally conducting services, then I ask you to ensure that a delegate within Borough hall is available to perform such ceremonies.
While I disagree wholesale with them, I respect your right to personal and religious beliefs. Where I draw the line is when those beliefs not only prevent others from obtaining services they are legally and morally entitled to, but also create a culture where pre-printed lists of other towns where “the gays” are accepted are handed out. Hawthorne, New Jersey will never live up to its full potential and will never be an inclusive, welcoming, and fair community until this policy is reversed.