Sean Kean Protest: The Pinball Blizzard Gays Storm Their State Senator

For the last three years, gays have been like pinballs in the Jersey politics machine. Slapped around by one-directional rubber flippers, they hit the high-score bumpers at times, but inevitably land in the gutter.


The ball slips through the flippers. BONUS. Another game.

It’s Friday night, Feb. 19, and there’s a body-snatching cold on Cookman Ave. This is Monmouth County, New Jersey’s 11th legislative district. The “gayest district in the state” according to a recent speech on the Senate floor in Trenton.

Sean T. Kean is a Republican that same sex couples once counted as an ally. He spoke warmly of the community on the day marriage equality came to a vote in January, telling people of how the rainbow flag brigade cleaned up neighborhoods like Cookman when they moved in, pushing the drug dealers out and pulling businesses back in.

But Sean T. Kean (rhymes with ‘queen’) wasn’t voting for them that day. And for some reason, he felt it necessary to smack his constituents around like a three-foot pinball jockey, barely able to see the glass, punching at the buttons wildly.

Kean talked about his close gay friends—“oh, the gay FRIENDSzzzzzS (plural!) this man must have!”—and how he spent the night of his swearing in as Senator celebrating at their eatery. Presumably there were a lot of straight restaurateurs just fighting for the chance to serve the Sean T. Kean his first senatorial supper, but he’s so close to this set of gays, he had to dine with them.

And yet he won’t let them marry.

Kean could’ve kept his mouth shut and voted no or abstained like the majority of naysayers in the state Senate. But he just had to press the gays’ buttons, in a hurtful, patronizing speech. He riled the advocates of marriage equality so much that now he’s got over a hundred people standing outside in the insta-headache cold wind at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday.

They gathered on Cookman Avenue, the comeback art-coffee drag of the Asbury downtown for a candlelit march, though it’s more like a candlezip march—the second the wind touches their wicks, the flame goes out. They don’t care as they step down a side street, over two blocks and up one to a tall, 11-story old-fangled office building.

The windows are dark and it looks like nobody’s home. On one of these floors is Sean T. Kean’s empty law office.

It’s probably better that no one is there. The pinballs are shaking the machine, filling the sidewalks and more than half the street, slowing traffic. A young man peers out from the old Asbury Park Press building, maybe wondering what the hell is going on down there. It looks like the villagers have chased Frankenstein to this tower and would surely set it on fire if only they could get their candles burning.

The wind is more vicious than any monster movie, and it’s hard to hear the speeches. One of the speakers, a local school board member, says something about being “hot mad.

HOT! HOT!” shouts a woman in a heavy coat, lifting a sign despite the pushback from the wind. Her voice dwarfs the bullhorn’s. People’s ears are burning, not figuratively, but from the singeing cold.

At this point, dear reader, you must be wondering what upcoming election it is that you’ve forgotten about. You haven’t. No election is nearing. No legislation is pending. These advocates are rallying for nothing.

Well, the third anniversary of nothing.

In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that gay couples deserve equal rights of marriage. Except they didn’t want to make the decision themselves, so they put it to the legislature, who passed ‘civil unions,’ which went into effect three years ago this week.

Despite the popular idea that this is an acceptable form of gay marriage, civil unions don’t work. Separate is not equal.
Garden State Equality, the state’s leading LGBT political organization, documented scores of instances of couples denied their rights through misunderstandings or inadequacies. It’s why the gay community went back to the legislature in December and January, armed with proof that civil unions failed to meet the state Supreme Court’s mandate of equality. They wanted civil marriage, and what they ended up getting was Sean T. Kean’s speech.

Kean is one of many politicians from both parties who gummed up the machine for the people standing outside in the Asbury winter. Advocates of equality hoped they could resolve their struggle through the elective branch of government, but they just bounced them around, and now they’re back right where they started: in court.

So, that’s this round, but the quarter hasn’t dropped. No game over. Not yet.