By Aliza Alperin-Sheriff
Hamilton couple gets married in one of Princeton’s first same-sex ceremonies
When Bob McQueen and Rob Martens celebrated their nuptials on Nov. 1, they became one of the first gay couples to be legally married in Princeton following the recent court decision legalizing same-sex weddings.
Although the couple lives in Hamilton and had to apply for a marriage license there, they were married by Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert in her office at Witherspoon Hall. McQueen, who works as the Princeton’s chief information officer, said that in addition to the fact that he works for the town, the most important factor in choosing to get married in Princeton was the enthusiastic support that town officials have shown for marriage equality.
Even before Gov. Chris Christie dropped his appeal challenging the state court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Princeton government began taking action.
Although the immediate future of same-sex marriage in the state was unknown, council members Heather Howard and Patrick Simon sponsored a a resolution passed by council stating that the town was ready and willing to perform same-sex marriages.
McQueen, who has lived in Hamilton since 1995, said that although getting married and finally gaining the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts was significant, he feels that the real momentous occasion was when he and his husband were joined in a civil union on Aug. 3.
“When we had the civil union, it was for us in front of friends and family, and I still view it as our day, even though we had a marriage ceremony on Nov. 1,” McQueen said. “In theory, when we started planning the civil union, we did it because we wanted to show our love for each other to our friends and family. We didn’t know what was going to happen. And then [the legalization of same-sex marriage] all happened so quickly. It’s a shame that what happened in August couldn’t be called marriage and recognized legally as a marriage.”
McQueen, 49, and Martens, 42, an instructor of biology at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, connected online about three years ago. The night they met, they talked on the phone for hours, and soon after went out on a dinner date. About six months later, Martens moved in with McQueen, and they have been together ever since.
Prior to meeting Martens, McQueen had been married to a woman for 21 years and had three children with her. Although his family has been very supportive, his path as an out gay man hasn’t always been easy. Upon coming out, he was excommunicated from the church that he had been heavily involved in for several years.
Martens, who has been out since his 20s, said that he never imagined that he would ever be with someone who had been married or had kids. When he met McQueen, he was only about a year removed from a long-term relationship, but, he said, “I went for it, and everything worked out incredibly well.”
They couple explained that for the first half of the ceremony in August, the officiant used the words civil union, but halfway through the ceremony made the activist decision that it was a marriage and should be referred to as such.
Martens admitted that he was actually a little disappointed that they had to get married on Nov. 1, because he felt like they had already done it several months earlier. He said that they got some backlash from friends and family for not being invited to the actual wedding, but for Martens and McQueen, the marriage was really just about obtaining the correct paperwork.
The couple lamented having to go through the process of acquiring a marriage license so soon after having gotten one for a civil union. They had to reapply, file the same paperwork again, pay another fee and endure another 72-hour wait with the end result being that now they have two licenses. As such, they feel that there is still work to be done by state government to ease the process of turning civil union licenses into marriage licenses and to make it more automatic.
Nevertheless, Martens said that they are glad that their marriage is now recognized as equal to the marriages of opposite-sex couples, and they are pleased to have the same benefits not only from the state of New Jersey, but also the federal government.
“You really do feel discriminated against when you are not entitled to joint federal tax returns, social security benefits, and other privileges that the federal government extends to married couples,” McQueen said.
“In New Jersey, most people don’t care,” McQueen said. “Coming out later in life, one of my biggest fears was hurting my kids, but they totally support it. They were witnesses at our civil union. I knew [when I came out that] I would lose friends and gain friends, but the amount of friends I lost was minimal.”
Although they now have equal rights in their home state, McQueen and Martens believe that the federal government needs to step in and make same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. They said that a couple should not have to choose what state to live based on its laws pertaining to marriage.
McQueen observed that Pennsylvania, for example, lacks not only same-sex marriage or civil unions, but even domestic partnership benefits. He said that it was “ludicrous that states haven’t dealt with it,” and that is why it needs to be addressed at the federal level.
And even though they are now married, the couple said they still have to be very careful when they leave New Jersey. They have to think about how others will react to them and change their behavior accordingly — something that heterosexual couples don’t have to deal with.
Even so, they remain optimistic that the country is changing.
“There’s going to be a domino effect,” Martens said. “I honestly never thought I would see this so soon.”
As for Lempert, she believes that that same-sex marriage in New Jersey was “a long time coming.”
“I believe that our laws and constitutions are supposed to uphold justice and equality, and I thought that the case was a good one and should be upheld,” she said.
Lempert praised Councilwoman Howard’s role in ensuring that same-sex weddings could be performed in Princeton as soon as they became legal.
According to the mayor, Howard followed the news closely after the court ruling came down on Oct. 18, and thanks to her vigilance, the town was able to start processing applications for marriage that afternoon — in time to meet the 72-hour waiting period required before performing weddings on Oct. 21, the day that same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey.
The first actual same-sex wedding in Princeton was officiated by Lempert in Oct. 21 between long-time Princeton residents Maria Boes and Susan Levine, who have been together as a couple for 33 years. The couple declined to be interviewed by the Echo because they felt that they had already received too much publicity in a number of news stories reporting on them as Princeton’s first gay couple to be married.
“It’s time for another couple to have a chance to tell their story,” Boes said.