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    February 24, 2009

    Civil unions WILL lead to marriage

    Posted by: Andoni

    Aaa see no

    Something that the far right realizes that seems to be outside of the grasp of many our leaders in the gay community is that once you have a national civil unions law, it is only a matter of time before you get marriage equality. Separate but equal is not a sustainable position in this country. It will be easier to go from civil unions to marriage than from nothing to marriage. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, gets it. In responding to a compromise national civil unions Op Ed in last Sunday's New York Times, co-authored by a fellow leader of the religious right, Perkins warns that "once a civil unions law is in place, denial of marital status would be almost impossible to defend."

    The right realizes this, our leaders don't.

    Many proposals have been made advocating ways to achieve civil unions nationally, especially since it is President Obama's official position to have full civil unions for gay people. Federally recognized civil unions would mean civil unions in all 50 states. All couples would have to do is go to a state that offers civil unions to get hitched, then return to their home state. Federal couples' benefits in all 50 states is a big deal. These would include things like social security survival benefits, joint tax returns, partner immigration rights.. over 1100+ very substantial rights and benefits.

    Federally recognized civil union proposals have been elucidated here, here and here.

    Civil unions can be accomplished because 75% of the public supports the idea.

    In private emails from leaders in our community, I have been told that I have it all wrong, that the best way forward is to hold out for marriage equality. I strongly disagree.

    Right now it's like standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus and the bus keeps passing me by. The bus won't stop to let me on. If one day the bus stops and tells me that I can get on but I have to agree to sit in the back, I would gladly do it. Once on the bus I know I will be able to fight my way forward until I get a seat in the front. It's much harder to get a seat in the front of the bus if you're not on the bus at all. If I'm still standing on the side of the road, I seriously doubt that the bus will one day stop and offer me a seat in the front of the bus. It didn't happen that way for the African Americans; what makes us think it's going to happen for us?

    From a public relations (selling the public) point of view (as well as I believe in court), it's much easier to argue that a national separate but equal institution for gays is un-American-- both historically and constitutionally. Separate but equal has been stigmatized in the US and the public will get it after a very few years. However, trying to convince people or the court that we should be allowed to marry when the starting point is having nothing (no recognition at all) is be a tougher sell.

    This is a no-brainer folks, and I'm starting to get angry at our leaders who won't pick up on Obama's civil union idea. Obama clearly sees the way forward and is trying to lead us to that next step, but our leaders seem oblivious to it.

    h/t Andrew Sullivan

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    Comments

    1. steve tabarez on Feb 24, 2009 5:02:36 PM:

      Don't know if I can buy the argument as you state it,
      here. Then again, I am totally against this fight for our rights in a state by state, right by right fashion. Seems all this discussion on this OPED piece woul be moot if we had our full civil rights under the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT.

    1. Joseph Kowalski on Feb 24, 2009 7:47:34 PM:

      It was always a mistake to go after gay marriage from the outset. There are too many religious attachments to the term marriage. If all the rights of marriage are granted to civil unions, then who cares if the term marriage is ever applied to gay unions.

      Personally, I believe the government should have civil unions consisting of all the rights currently granted through marriage for all couples, gay and straight, and leave marriage up to the individual churches, thus separating God and civil rights.

      All couples can civil union for their civil rights from the government and seek God's blessing from their individual church. There are plenty of gay affirming churches for gay couples who want that.

    1. tristram on Feb 24, 2009 9:21:15 PM:

      The GLAAD poll results are WACKO - they bear no relationship to reality. Here's an example:

      "U.S. adults are now about evenly divided on whether they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (47% favor to 49% oppose)."

      If that's the national figure, and if California is one of the most gay-friendly states (which it is), why did 53% of adult Californians who voted choose to rescind gay marriage rights via Prop 8? (Hint: it was NOT because they approve of gay marriage but were steamed about activist judges.)

      The GLAAD (Harris Interactive) poll is an example of the same sort of wishful thinking as the early polling in California that showed anti-8 prevailing easily - only more so.

      We aren't going to be able to formulate a winning approach until we get real.

    1. SeaMex on Feb 24, 2009 10:29:34 PM:

      The all or nothing approach is most likely to leave us with nothing for years to come. You have to start somewhere and civil unions will solve 95% of the problems for my family. Full equality is the ultimate goal, but I feel we would be foolish to not grasp what is being offered to us now.

    1. tristram on Feb 25, 2009 1:28:21 AM:

      I see that Michael Steele has aligned the GOP behind civil unions - NOT. And he was the one chair-candidate who was 'not anti-gay.'

    1. Ron on Feb 25, 2009 4:42:19 AM:

      Couldn't agree with you more. The emotion attached to the word "marriage" by many is a stumbling block to any form of civil unions. Furthermore, Federal Civil Unions convey much more than do marriage rights on a state by state basis. Being a former Constitutional Law Professor, Obama is tying to lead us in the direction that will produce results. We would be well served to follow his lead!

    1. Andoni on Feb 25, 2009 12:53:08 PM:

      tristram correctly cites the national polls on gay marriage. It's about 50-50 now, with a slight edge to the opposition. But here's the good news for civil unions. Of the half that oppose gay marriage, half of those do so solely because of the word marriage and do not gay rights for couples as long as it's called civil union and NOT marriage. The other half of the opposition is just vehemently anti-gay, no matter what. That's how you get the poll numbers of 75% supporting civil unions or marriage (the one I cited); other polls come in at 68% of the public that supports civil unions.

      As for California, the polls were tracking correctly. In the beginning we were ahead. But about two weeks out we got behind...and lost by about the margin predicted. We lost in California because we were beaten in the ground game and in the advertising. Our opponents went door to door in an organized fashion that put our effort to shame. And they also aired fearful (and totally false) ads, which we did not rebut directly or in time.

      I stand by my numbers.

    1. Seadog on Feb 25, 2009 2:38:49 PM:

      You guys don't get it. You are being conned. Perkins is not only right, but everyone else gets it, too. Objection to the word 'marriage' is a red herring, designed deliberately to get us not to notice that NO FEDERAL CIVIL UNIONS BILL HAS BEEN, OR WILL BE, SPONSORED BY ANY MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OR SENATE. Read that again, if you didn't get my screaming. The path to equality is the proven one, a court that can read. Separate is not equal. End of story. Resign yourself to ANY legislative progress not occuring until the next Republican president (who will be of an ideology we cannot yet imagine) only as early as Obama plus 1-3 terms, so 2021-2029.

      SCOTUS is the whole game until then.

      Readers of this site should get this most readily. Why does Feinstein (and 50 others) not cosponsor UAFA? The union posture against immigration reform of any kind. End of story. Unions 100-Fags 0.

      We desperately need to get more objective and strategize appropriately.

      Sorry.

    1. mademark on Feb 25, 2009 4:23:12 PM:

      The NYT op-ed did not make clear that any couple could get a civil union in a state that offers them, return home and apply federal recognition. While you spell this out, the op-ed did not and I question why. It made it sound quite like only CUs, DPs or marriages offered by a state the couple lives in would be afforded federal recognition.

      I remain troubled by the simple assertion that all a couple will have to do is go to a state that offers civil union or marriage, return to Appalachia and voila, federal benefits! It understimates the opposition it will be met with on the ground. Hospitals will still refuse access, employers will still decline to insure, and any other significant benefits will be met with serious resistance.

      Finally, this assumes that poor gay and lesbian couples will have the resources to travel to Vermont or Connecticut (one must live in a state to register as domestic partners). It bothers me greatly that the poor and disadvantaged will not be able to make these journies you present as so easy. What about the rural lesbian couple or the blind gay man or the wheelchair bound? Are they less than? How does this avoid a priveleged class of gay person who can afford a trip to Massachussets? It's not nearly as simple as it's being presented, and it continues to leave behind those with the least resources and the most vulnerability. If access is not available to all, it is unjust, and will be called out that way. (Many already see marriage equality as a white gay obsession - will we feed into it by having a federal civil unions bill that's only a benefit to those who can afford it?)

    1. mademark on Feb 25, 2009 4:39:27 PM:

      p.s., here's the crucial quote from the NYT op-ed: "It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage."

      So - Florida does not grant or recognize civil unions or marriages. A civil union certificate from Vermont becomes meaningless in Florida. How will a couple in a state that does not recognize civil unions or marriage from another state claim to have a valid civil union, thus accessing the federal civil unions law? It seems a very tricky legal question. If the authors of the op-ed intend, as you suggest, that a Vermont civil union will suffice in any other state, they did not make this apparent.

      And still it does not address the question of those who can't afford to go to another state. It's like women forced to cross state lines to get an abortion, creating an undue hardship that many low-income gay & lesbian couples will simple be unable to overcome. But then again I'm a middle class white gay guy with a NY domestic partnership, maybe I'm not supposed to care.

    1. Lorenzo from Oz on Feb 25, 2009 4:46:59 PM:

      Insisting on full legal equality now keeps activists "pure" and keeps the "game" (and the donations therefore) going longer.

      If step-by-step was good enough for Lincoln freeing the slaves, civil unions should be good enough for us. It gets the legal rights, reassures the "untried" concerns, defuses most of the religious ones. It even broadens the coalition, since some straights would like civil unions for themselves, if French experience is anything to go by.

      This is a case where the lack of a sponsored bill is, oddly enough, precisely because it has a lot of polling power behind it. It has to be blocked at the start or else it will win.

      So, when the HRC, etc and religious right are on the "same page" we should be worried. Because, after all, what do both those sets of organisations want? The fight to go on as long as possible.

    1. Andoni on Feb 25, 2009 5:26:13 PM:

      For mademark: I live in GA. If my partner and I go to VT to get a civil union, the state of VT will grant me a civil union. My civil union was granted (given) at the state level. It was licensed by the state of VT (see below). The federal government doesn't grant marriages or civil unions, it can only recognize those unions that were granted at the the state level. Right now the feds choose not to recognize any same sex marriage granted at the state level.

      To buttress this reasoning, notice this language also from the Op Ed: "Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions..." My union was licensed in VT. It has nothing to do with GA when I return. Even for straight married couples, a couple married VT, even after they move back to GA, have a piece of paper (license) that is from VT. When they come back to GA, they don't get another piece of paper that says the license is from GA. That license is always from VT.

      As an analogy, the federal government does not license doctors. It simply recognizes licenses that were granted by states. So if a doctor wants to practice in the VA System, military, public health system, etc. all s/he needs is a license granted by one of the states. A doctor can get his license in VT and practice in a military hospital in GA even though the state of GA will not recognize that license for that doctor to practice outside of the military base in GA. The doctor was granted a license at the state level (VT) and therefore is legal as far as the feds are concerned.

      The state system and the federal system are two independent systems in this country. Get it?

    1. mademark on Feb 25, 2009 7:55:31 PM:

      Thanks Andoni. I sort of get it, though it will have to be spelled out in any federal legislation (which I would not expect to be seriously proposed let alone passed for at least a decade, probably two). The less affluent and less literate among us (there I go again with my crazy Jesus take on things) will assume that because their state does not grant or recognize civil unions/marriage this is not available to them. I assume many semi-literate opponents think this also, as once they realize that any couple could get a Vermont certificate, come home and be equal on a federal level the intensity of opposition will increase exponentially.

      I understand this is incremental. I’m not saying it’s a terrible idea at all, just an idea that is much more complicated than is being presented. It’s not a magic pill that lesbian and gay Americans will be able to take and suddenly file joint tax returns. Civil rights legislation was enforced at the barrel of a gun, if I recall correctly (National Guard and whatnot). Any right bestowed by the federal government that conflicts with what a hostile state offers will be met with hostility. I would simply like you to address the complications.

      This is much like discussing quantum theory. It’s above most people’s heads (including mine) and operates in the theater of possibility. Obama has not shown the spine to pursue this in a first or second term, and what lies beyond him remains to be seen.

      I would much appreciate your addressing the income disparity I’ve mentioned. Unless the federal government gets into the business of issuing civil union certificates, which it won’t, how will this be available to low-income/poverty gay and lesbian couples who cannot afford to cross states lines to get a certificate/license? What is their recourse, please? Civil unions by mail? I’m only harping on it because I attended MCC New York, with is very social justice oriented, and I believe that a benefit to the few is a denial to the many. My partner and I are well off. We can afford to protect ourselves. We’ve registered in NY as domestic partners, which provides us a fair amount of protection. But what of my lesbian sister in Missouri who cannot access these things because she and her spouse cannot afford a trip to Connecticut? Do we tell her to wait while we sprint ahead, or do we do the right thing and refuse to take what is not offered, with access, to all? Please address this, without saying all they have to do is go to Vermont to get hitched.

    1. Andoni on Feb 26, 2009 7:45:03 AM:

      I can't think of any possible way to equalize the access to civil unions vis a vis the problem you describe. Yes, it is a problem, but I don't think the government can solve it via legislation.

    1. InExile on Feb 26, 2009 10:39:02 AM:

      The all or nothing plan will end up giving us all nothing. We must push for civil unions as a step to marriage. Our new president supports civil unions and that is what "our leaders" should be pushing for period. I just don't understand why they seem to be asleep at the wheel focusing only on DADT and hate crimes which are necessary but are too narrow a focus. I hope they wake up before we miss the bus entirely!

    1. InExile on Feb 26, 2009 10:40:43 AM:

      The all or nothing plan will end up giving us all nothing. We must push for civil unions as a step to marriage. Our new president supports civil unions and that is what "our leaders" should be pushing for period. I just don't understand why they seem to be asleep at the wheel focusing only on DADT and hate crimes which are necessary but are too narrow a focus. I hope they wake up before we miss the bus entirely!

    1. Sebbe on Mar 1, 2009 8:13:28 PM:

      My position on this has evolved over the years. I initially thought, civil union or marriage, who cares? I just want my rights they can call it whatever they want. After being involved here in Massachusetts (where I live in Boston) and Connecticut (where I grew up mostly) I am now all for full marriage equality.

      But, on the national level, I think this is a much wiser strategy on many levels to go after civil unions. I'm just a young(er) new stupid lawyer in my 20s, but if there are any legal experts on this subject or constitutional law out there, how do you think this would affect the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution if this legislation was passed. I would presume we would be in legal battles for at least a decade, but in the end (depending on the composition of SCOTUS) the court would rule that all states must offer civil unions.

      I also have dual citizenship in Sweden and have spend much time there over the years and often now. I won't go into the intimate details. But will try to give you a quick rundown.

      Sweden has allowed since 1995 (third in the world after our Nordic neighbors Norway and Denmark) for gays with all rights and privileges with the exception of forcing the unions to be preformed in the state church (Church of Sweden) known as the Registered Partnership act (loose English translation). Gays in Sweden have been allowed all rights and privileges since that date including adoption with the exception of invitro fertilization for lesbians which was granted in 2005.

      Sweden also has a lesser common-law marriage which is open to both hetrosexual and homosexual couples since 1998 and brought under the same legislation, I believe around 2005 (they used to be governed separately).

      While not required by law, the Church of Sweden (Svenska kyrkan) does now have a formal ceremony (blessing) that is performed for gays and lesbians and has been approved by the church hierarchy since 2007.

      It is widely assumed that all of these laws will be replaced with a gender neutral marriage law for all this year (maybe as soon as May). These marriages are to be preformed by both the state and the Church of Sweden (and presumably other religious organizations if they so choose, although those smaller churches play a VERY minor role in Swedish society).

      As one would expect, support for marriage equality is highly supported by the Swedish populace and 7 out of the 8 political parties represented in the Riksdag (parliament) are supportive of this measure. The only political party that disapproves of this is the Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrats) who currently hold 24 seats out of 349 (6.50%) in the Riksdag (Sweden has a unicameral legislature).

      Oh and many straight couples do opt for these partnerships in swedish, known commonly as ones "Sambo". Gays who have opted for the higher protections use the same language as hetros (gifta).

      To be honest, I am not as sure about the specifics of the laws of the neighboring Nordic nations.

      But by using Sweden (certainly a more liberal country that the US) we can see the path that has been taken to reach the ultimate goal.

      I'm curious about others thoughts about this?

      But basically there was a civil union law for gays, then a civil union law for straights. Then the two were brought together under one act which are equivalent to civil unions for all as an option instead of marriage. Now full marriage equality is expected

    1. Sebbe on Mar 1, 2009 8:16:32 PM:

      Oh and in case anyone is wondering, it is intended that the "civil unions" "common law marriages" will stay on the books in Sweden and be an option.

      It is also probably worth noting that in Sweden, a couple (lets presume straight), must first go through the civil ceremony through the state and then can choose to have a religious marriage if they wish.

      One more thing, I know I said I was going to be short 500 years ago, but, if there are any other Europeans on here, or those familiar with the EU, is this the path you see the EU taken as well. Civil unions required with some states having stronger protections? That's my prediction.

    1. Mish on Mar 13, 2009 1:15:07 PM:

      I abhor "separate but equal." It's another form of codified hate and I'm dismayed to see that we may have to go down this road. I don't consider civil unions for same sex couples and marriage for different sex couples as adequate recognition of each American's inalienable right to choose his/her partner.

      However, I acknowledge the wisdom of your argument for a more efficient approach to the ultimate goal. The current lack of any legal recognition whatsoever for gay and lesbian relationships hurts real people every day. Purely for the practical goal of securing the 1100+ rights you reference I would swallow this bitter pill. The immediate real life benefit trumps complicity in this distasteful action.

      We should never mistake this action, which seeks to ameliorate the effects of discrimination, for one that addresses discrimination itself. Rather, it further entrenches it in our legal code. It is a less malevolent form of prejudice but it's prejudice nonetheless.

      I would overcome my visceral objections to the gross injustice of the idea and support this idea solely for realpolitik reasons; this is in no way an outgrowth of my passionate belief in equal rights. Gaining civil unions for some will finally offer a place under the roof of legal protection, and that is not to be gainsaid or belittled, but I'm in the fight because equality, by its very definition, must for all or it is for none.

    1. Jason on Mar 22, 2009 3:19:03 PM:

      One of the reasons I finally left DC was the rank hypocrisy of the political game America now plays. Once in power, a party or faction has little reason to actually accomplish the major goals they have set out to accomplish. Why? Because they wouldn't be able to fundraise using the issue anymore.

      The Republican party (nationally) put zero effort into legislating an end to abortion when they were in power.

      The Democrats will not actually pass legislation to accomplish the biggies on their list (see how former backers of card-check are falling off) because they'd lose the argument of why they need to be in power.

      And HRC has NO REASON to accomplish the goal of civil rights for gay americans. They have every reason to scream and shout and raise money. They can give out pretty plaques and throw big galas. But winning would end their reason for being.

      After living in DC for 15 years, it was very disillusioning to reach this conclusion. But the system is set up for failure.

    1. Renova on Sep 28, 2011 7:45:35 AM:

      Thats a unique view Jason. Never knew this could be possible :O

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