Friday, June 7, 2013

Richard Mack, Who Successfully Sued New Jersey In 1967 Landmark Gay Rights Case, Dies At 79

In New Jersey, Richard Mack, the Den nightclub owner who sued the state with his father in a landmark 1967 gay rights case, died on May 31 at age 79. A memorial service is planned for 10:30 am Sunday at Kirkpatrick Chapel on the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick. “The Mack family should be proud of their role in helping fight for the equality and the dignity of the LGBT community as a straight ally,” said T.J. Helmstetter, communications director of Garden State Equality. “Richard Mack stood up at a time when so many would not.” The New Jersey State Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) attempted to suspend the Den’s alcohol license in 1963 when the bar — now in the Somerset section of Franklin — was at 111 Albany St. in New Brunswick. Using the language of the day, the ABC deemed the congregation of homosexuals in “inordinate numbers” was against “public morals.” The Macks — including Richard’s father, Emanuel, who owned the bar at the time — joined with Val’s in Atlantic City and Murphy’s Tavern in Newark to take the ABC to court. They won a landmark 1967 decision in the New Jersey State Supreme Court that gave homosexuals the right to gather in bars in New Jersey. The decision was two years prior to the 1969 Stonewall uprising, which is considered the beginning of the gay rights movement. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Richard Mack helped the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be treated fairly in public accommodations,” said Helmstetter. “By suing to legalize gay bars, he helped establish safe spaces for the state’s LGBT community. We hope to continue to honor him by creating more safe spaces that will be free of discrimination.” The Den, now at 700 Hamilton St. in Somerset, has existed since 1944 at three locations — including the former Hiram Market area near Route 18 in New Brunswick — and has had gay clientele since 1958. “I said, this is silly,” Richard Mack told the Home News Tribune, a sister paper of the Asbury Park Press, in 1998 regarding the pre-1967 anti-gay laws. “Apparently, homosexuals can go into a men’s store or a drug store or restaurant, but they can’t go into a place that sells alcohol? We said we have to do something.” Richard Mack was studying law at the time and was the driving force behind the lawsuit, said son Peter Mack, who now owns the Den and the adjacent Sophie’s Bistro restaurant. “What happened was the ABC first came in ’61 and they fought it to the Supreme Court in ’67 when they won the case,” Peter Mack said. Richard Mack was the only child of Emanuel (Manny) Makanoff and Leah Braverman Makanoff. The family later changed their name to Mack. Richard Mack studied law at Seton Hall but left school to take over the family business when his father became ill. Richard is survived by his wife, Cynthia Brockett, and children, Peter Mack and Randi Mack Gonnella and her husband, Michael Gonnella. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Franklin Animal Shelter, the Franklin Foodbank or Elijah’s Promise of New Brunswick.

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