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  • « Back to the future on gay rights? | Main | The Week on GNW (Nov. 16-22) »

    November 21, 2008

    Toward more perfect civil unions

    Posted by: Chris

    Preamble Thanks to Bilerico Project for posting my essay about a federal civil unions law -- "A modest marriage proposal" -- yesterday. Blogmeister Bil Browning gets points for proving me wrong and leaving in my criticism of Beltway-based gay "leaders," despite the fact many participate there as guest bloggers.

    The discussion that follows in the comments is not unlike the healthy debate we've had on here. I'm pleased that almost none of the objections have come from the short-sighted perspective that hate crimes and ENDA are all we should reasonably expect this year.

    I think it's clear to everyone except those employed by the Human Rights Campaign or the Democratic Party that those two bills are a start, not the finish. Having promised passage of both for years -- including if Democrats took control of Congress after the 2006 midterms, it's not enough to finish yesterday's (yesteryear's) work and call it a day.

    The concerns I've seen raised about civil unions, rather, have been about how they are inherently unequal to marriage and we'd be left with a system like the Brits that enshrines marriage for heterosexuals and "civil partnerships" for gays. First and foremost, I agree wholeheartedly that we can never give up the fight for marriage or accept separate-unequal, second-class citizenship. 

    Civil unions are an important step, but they are not the promise land. Still, remember, no is married by the federal government, so the wording issue -- while important -- isn't as crucial as it is at the state level. Also, the gay rights movement in the U.K. never pressed for full marriage equality and has chosen not to push for it after civil partnerships were enacted. That's their right, of course, but there's nothing that says we have to follow their lead.

    Some have suggested that repealing the Defense of Marriage Act would accomplish the same thing as a federal civil unions statute, and they are right, of course. If we can repeal DOMA, or even half-repeal DOMA, I'm all for it. But the "M word" remains a sticking point for many in Congress, and the public, so federal civil unions would be a more immediately achievable step -- and one that would represent real, dramatic progress in hundreds of thousands of lives, especially in the red states with constitutional amendments that ban them, for the time being, from marrying gay couples.

    Fyi1 Just look at the sea of red on this map from Evan Wolfson's Freedom to Marry.

    We are years and years away from wiping the books of these anti-gay amendments. In the meantime, we have a unique opportunity, with the Democrats firmly in control, to go 95 percent of the way toward redressing discrimination by our own federal government against gay couples all across America.

    It's not a chance we should miss.



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    1. Doug on Nov 21, 2008 9:37:59 PM:

      Personally I don't really care what they call it, domestic partnership or civil unions, as long as I get all the same benefits as married folk. Why is everyone so hung up on the word 'marriage'? A rose by any other name. . . .

    1. Ethan on Nov 22, 2008 4:51:50 PM:

      While the Brits have a right not to persue Marriage, they are LIGHT years ahead of us in basic civil and human rights. I agreed with your article about Civil Unions, even used it it in several online discussions. You were correct, Civil unions are the way to go. If we had been fighting for them along time ago, we would have had them and life would be much better.

      Keep up the good work!!!

    1. Chuck on Nov 22, 2008 5:40:40 PM:

      I'm with you on this one, Chris.

      To a hungry man, half a loaf of bread now, is better than the whole loaf next week when he's dead of starvation.

    1. Chuck on Nov 22, 2008 5:41:10 PM:

      I'm with you on this one, Chris.

      To a hungry man, half a loaf of bread now, is better than the whole loaf next week when he's dead of starvation.

    1. mademark on Nov 23, 2008 9:48:18 AM:

      The problem with civil unions is that they must have the force of law behind them. Sir Elton and many others fail to understand that civil unions can be and are ignored. In New Jersey for instance there have been instances of companies refusing to adhere to the civil unions law, declaring that a civil union is not a marriage. It will require enforceable penalties and a re-education of businesses and state employees and insurance carriers that a civil union does indeed have the legal standing of marriage (a rose by another name) and must be honored. Does anyone really think a Federal Civil Unions law will be 1) honored in states hostile to us (Mississippi? Florida?) and 2) be respected as the law? My concern is that businesses, states and municipalities will simply ignore them. Hello litigation! Lastly, it is the opponents of marriage equality who have made ‘marriage’ the holy grail that must be achieved for full equality. If the government is prepared in passing a civil unions bill to enforce it, then fine, but I have my doubts.

    1. pflagmom on Nov 26, 2008 8:32:57 PM:

      I guarantee that I'll refer to any couple who gets a civil union as married, if they wish. We can take this word over. They can't make it illegal to call a couple married, whether the law uses that word or not. We must remember that the vast majority of straight folks out there don't understand the laws anyway, think marriages in MA are recognized everywhere, (got that from the employee at Hallmark when I went in for the gay marriage card, last month) and if we just use the word, they will assume marriage is legal. Soon the opposition will have to change their wordage to "traditional marriage" (already some do) to differentiate and then we'll take that over too. "Oh, 'traditional' as opposed to 'common law'?" I'll innocently ask.

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