Only recently did I learn about the film Freeheld and the story of Laurel Hester, a NJ police officer with a terminal sickness, fighting so that her wife and partner could receive her pension, just like heterosexual partners do. Somehow I hadn’t heard all the details of the struggle in Ocean County, where I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past few visits to the US, as the elected officials of that country refused to recognize a gay couple as having the same rights as heterosexual couples.
I’ve watched the trailer several times, not to mention the interview recorded with Laurel before she died in 2006. I’m moved and speechless as I watch her health deteriorate and I listen to the itensity of the demonstrators standing before the county officials demanding justice. It is beautiful and outrageous at the same time. Surreal that such a thing happens, and awe-inspiring that people with such strength exist.
Further research informs me that indeed, before her death, Ocean County finally granted her partner full benefits, just as any other couple would get. And beyond that, in December of 2006 (an event I do remember) NJ Governor John Corzine signed the bill recognizing all domestic partners as civil unions, with rights that indeed include pensions/benefits for partners. A critical eye reveals that this bill still doesn’t give 100% equality to gay couples, so despite some good steps forward, my state of birth still has some ways to go. After hearing this story, seeing the images, and without having yet seen the film, it is once again frustrating to see that it was only a couple of years ago that a state as diverse as NJ was still in the dark ages… and indeed, still today – not yet fully enlightened.