Author Alina Oswald

Rainbow Flag and American Flag at City Hall, Jersey City Pride 2014 - Photo Steve Gold, © Harmony Media, NJ

Friday, June 26, was a historic day. The Supreme Court ruled to extend equal marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. As a result, rainbow flags, the hashtag #lovewins, photos of same-sex couples and same-gender memes as well as arguments on both sides of the marriage equality decision took over social media, news feeds, news reports and everything else in between.

"Today’s ruling means that no state, whether through legislation or a constitutional amendment, can deny a same-sex couple the right to marry. No ifs, ands, or buts!," stated Rick Jacobs, founder of The Courage Campaign.

While, the Supreme Court decision was a national event, it also incited profound reactions in Jersey City. Soon after the ruling was announced, rainbow flags were hoisted at City Hall, the Newport Mall, and along the waterfront at Exchange Place. Many residents, including Mayor Fulop and Jersey City’s LGBT activists, were overjoyed.

[caption id="attachment_61969" align="aligncenter" width="800"]First same-sex couples to marry in Jersey City with Mayor Steven Fulop (center), photo Mickey Mathis First same-sex couples to marry in Jersey City with Mayor Steven Fulop (center), photo Mickey Mathis[/caption]

"Today is a historic day for equality," Mayor Fulop posted on social media. Fulop, a long time supporter of LGBT rights, was present at the first civil union in 2007; he was a city councilman at the time. As mayor, Fulop officiated at the first same-sex marriage ceremony in New Jersey in 2013 and has since officiated at many other same-sex weddings. Both the first civil unions and first same-sex marriages in the state happened in Jersey City.

The fight for marriage equality started many years ago in Jersey City, with the efforts of activists like JCI publisher Catherine Hecht and wife, artist and JCI contributor Beth Achenbach. Partners Achenbach and Hecht were the first couple to be domestic partnered in Jersey City in 2004 when that was the only legal option; they were married this year. "I think the [Supreme Court] decision comes at a time when this country really could use something to lift our spirits," said Achenbach. "I was really overwhelmed by the amount of friends on my social media feeds, both gay and straight alike, [who] were posting such loving messages of joy and elation! I know, for me, I fed off of that good energy all day long. It proves that we are capable of great love, so let's use it to shine some light on the dark areas of our communities so that everyone can feel as we did today."

Other local activists deeply gratified by the ruling include Paul Mendoza and Miguel Cardenas, founders of Jersey City Pride. “I am overwhelmed with joy,” said Mendoza. “We have come a long way. I remember when I came out in the eighties, I didn't think marriage would be possible for me. But now with this ruling I can call my partner of 20 years, my husband, and have all 50 states recognize it. We still have a lot of work to do, but for this weekend, our community will celebrate marriage equality.” Mendoza and Cardenas were recently married by Mayor Fulop at a small ceremony at City Hall in Jersey City.

[caption id="attachment_79515" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Jersey City Pride founders, Miguel Cardenas (left) and Paul Mendoza (right) at the first same-sex marriages in 2013, with Mayor Steven Fulop (center), photo Mickey Mathis Jersey City Pride founders, Miguel Cardenas (left) and Paul Mendoza (right) at the first same-sex marriages in 2013, with Mayor Steven Fulop (center), photo Mickey Mathis[/caption]

Recording artist, actor and activist, Lovari, a Jersey City resident, shared similar sentiments, albeit tempered with some frustration. "Although I feel vindication for the LGBT community," Lovari stated, "It is ridiculous that it took this long. Just as slavery in the South and women not having the right to vote, this is just as ludicrous that the LGBT community [had] to wait so long to be granted the same human rights that we all deserve."

While it was a celebratory day, it was also a reminder—even to some socially progressive Republicans—of the work that’s still to be done in other civil rights areas that impact the LGBT community specifically.

“In 33 states, LGBT individuals can be denied services available to every other American because of who they love,” stated Margaret Hoover, president of the Republican American Unity Fund. “We are proud of the Republican legislators from across the country who have advanced the cause of freedom for LGBT Americans. We are committed to the non-discrimination work ahead as we continue to work towards full freedom and equality for the LGBT community.”

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force echoed Hoover's words: “In 28 states, individuals can get married legally and then go to work only to get fired for who they are or love.” Indeed, transgender individuals routinely face discrimination, harassment and mistreatment at the workplace. Their unemployment rate is double that found in the general population, and their poverty rate is four times as high.

[caption id="attachment_79518" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Co-Chairs Eddie Baez and Michael Billy address the crowd at the 2014 Jersey City Pride Festival, photo Steve Gold Co-Chairs Eddie Baez and Michael Billy address the crowd at the 2014 Jersey City Pride Festival, photo Steve Gold - © Harmony Media, NJ[/caption]

Eddie Baez, the current co-chair of Jersey City Pride, shares Carey’s concerns. "Now that marriage equality has passed, for me the whole recognition of transgender persons and their rights is huge,” he stated. “The Transgender community is subject to a great deal of discrimination and violence and we need to embrace and support them if we are going to be truly an inclusive LGBT community. We have made much progress with marriage equality, but there is still much work to be done."

Much of that work will be done on the local level at pride centers by activists and LGBT organizations througout the county. The Hudson Pride Connections Center (HPCC) has been the home for local LGBT individuals since 1993. HPCC's focus is to promote LGBT awareness and understanding through outreach and education, while addressing local LGBT issues and serving residents within the Jersey City LGBT community. "The Supreme Court's decision last Friday is one of the most significant steps forward in a decades-long struggle for the same rights and privileges as those what are granted to other citizens of the USA," said Elizabeth Schedl, HPCC's Deputy Director.

Schedl explains that more than 90% of the clients at HPCC come from ethnic minorities living in Hudson County. One of the most common problems that many of their clients face particularly as teens and young adults is rejection by their families and peers. For this reason, HPCC has been working to further acceptance and tolerance for individuals who identify as LGBT. Discrimination against LGBT individuals in areas such as employment and housing also remain an issue both locally and elsewhere in the country, and HPCC continues to work to help eliminate many of these discriminatory practices.

[caption id="attachment_79520" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Volunteers at the Hudson Pride Connections table at 2014 Jersey City Pride Festival, photo Steve Gold Volunteers at the Hudson Pride Connections table at 2014 Jersey City Pride Festival, photo Steve Gold - © Harmony Media, NJ[/caption]

"As a country, we should all celebrate this ruling, as it represents a victory for both tolerance and equal rights for all. I believe that this decision will also promote a greater acceptance and understanding of the LGBT community by our society as a whole," Schedl continued. "Although each year's [pride] festival is wonderful, I believe this year's festival will be a truly special celebration as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality and the freedom and inclusion that it has given to so  many individuals"

Jersey City residents will have opportunities to celebrate the recent victory and to focus on issues still facing the LGBT community during this year's Jersey City Pride Week, which will run from Friday, August 21 through Saturday, August 29. Events will include a drag brunch, a screening of LGBT films, a cabaret night and a women’s event. The week will culminate in a celebration at the Jersey City Pride Festival, an all-day outdoor event to be held on Newark Avenue, between Grove Street and Jersey Avenue, on August 29.

If you would like to volunteer or learn more about Hudson Pride Connection Center and Jersey City Pride visit hudsonpride.org. You can also read President Obama’s full speech on the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage at freedomtomarry.org.

© Harmony Media, NJ. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission.

JCI file photos by Mickey Mathis and Steve Gold. Liz Morrill contributed to this article.