Thursday, July 14, 2005

Marriage vs Civil Union

While I appreciate the compromise intended by advocates of civil unions, there seems to be some misconception about just what civil unions provide, and more importantly, their suitability as a substitute for marriage.

Here's a few links to get you up to speed:

  • Your Family, Friends and Neighbors has a nice starter summary.
  • GLAD details the major differences in this pdf.
  • And Scott Bidstrup presents a good essay debunking the opposition.

My trouble with civil unions, aside from the significant legal differences, is their inherent "separate but equal" nature. The legitimacy of this concept was challenged in the 50s and 60s, and finally laid to rest (or so I thought) with the Brown vs. Board of Eduction ruling in 1954.

Now, however, in an a presumably honorable attempt to satisfy both advocates and opponents of gay marriage, "separate but equal" is being offered up again. I don't doubt the sincerity of the would-be peacemakers in this debate, but I do have to question their familiarity with history.

Yes, I realize that for some, "a little" might be better than "none" given the current political climate, and that taking an absolutist position against other absolutists is apt to be an exercise in futility.

Nevertheless, compromise on issues like this do little more than sanction the attempts of fundamentalists to relegate the GLBT community to second-class citizenry. And this, in the end, is simply intolerable in a nation that supposedly reveres equality and diversity.

Editor's note: By the way -- I'm just getting started on this topic. I'll try and label posts plainly so you know what to expect, and can pass them up if this isn't one of your personal pet peeves. But don't think for a minute that this is all I have to say on the subject.


Anonymous said...

The worst thing about all of this is the effort made on the behalf of opponents (those who oppose recognition of gay couples), is twofold.

In much the same way that adoptive parents are still parents, gay couples are still couples. They are a fact of life, have been such throughout the recorded history of man, and deserve a little recognition.

The second problem is the way that the argument is cast. The opposition says it represents the people of the US, and the governments of the States and the Union. Anyone who has ever watched Law and Order knows that that makes them the prosecutor. The default position for the advocate of the State is always that of the prosecution. That being said, it is incumbent upon the advocate of the State to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, their concern over the destruction of society, and undermining the institution of marriage, is up to them to prove. And I look forward to ANY attempt, any whatsoever, to defend excluding gays from the secular institution of marriage.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

"In much the same way that adoptive parents are still parents, gay couples are still couples. They are a fact of life, have been such throughout the recorded history of man, and deserve a little recognition."

Indeed. I hear opponents rail about the impending destruction of society as if legalizing gay marriage will somehow "seed" the world and create heretofore straight people to "become gay". Nevermind that homosexuality has always been part of who we are as humans. Evidently their assumption is that legal sanction will increase the GLBT population by default. I guess it's because since they proselytize, they assume homosexuals will too.

Yep. That must be it. :::double-checking copy of "Gay Agenda"::: Uh huh. Says so right here.

Squirl said...

This may not be the most eloquent way of putting it, but, how the heck is gay marriage going to hurt straight marriage. That's a bit of propaganda that I've never been able to understand.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Squirl pondered aloud:
"how the heck is gay marriage going to hurt straight marriage."

That, my dear, is the $64 mil question. Most of the ones I've heard from point to the infamous Kurtz study of the Netherlands. Trouble is, the study is total crap, and has been quite throughly debunked. Here's a link to one of the spankings, which include end notes showing where Kurtz originally published his drivel.

Other than that, the best the fundies seem to offer up are promises of fire and brimstone. ::yawn::

Officious Pedant said...

The issue always seems to be some subtle and corrosive impact on the fabric of society, which will have some impact on the perception of marriage if "just anyone" can do it.

It's funny, when you think about it, that one of the arguments is that no successful society has ever had gay marriage. This is not quite true, but saying "berdache" produces ripostes that question the relative power of that society and its ability to assert itself on the world stage. I'm never quite sure what this means. What is the measure of a successful society? How do you quantify that? I think it means, basically, anything they recognize as an authoritative presence on the world stage. Except the ones in Scandinavia, because they are lost cause socialist states with no REAL power.

The upshot is that, somehow, gay marriage will cheapen the institution of marriage by lowering the standard, which will cause fewer people to marry, and thus produce fewer children, causing the species to go extinct. I actually had more than one person tell me that the extinction would take place in a generation. Can you imagine that? Gay marriage will cause breeding age folks from having children and bring humnaity to extinction in a generation!?!?!?

I hate to say it, but that's as good an indication of the patently ridiculous decrees being issued from the pulpit as you're likely to find.

tmp00 said...

My Darling Cantankerous One:

Up until the moment that some of those "activist judges" (all of whom BTW were Republican appointees- including the ones in MA) actually decided that separate but not equal was not good enough; I thought civil unions were okay. However, I now feel like that I may be able to drink (and I don't mean to offend) at that white-only fountain.

I am particularly proud that my home, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has once again been at the forefront of civil rights. That's right- we set up the underground railroad, we were the only one who nixed Nixon, we got gay marriage. Uh-huh, even with a Republican governor and his hand-picked judges, we still approve gay marriage. Fear Us- our denizens our moving to your neighborhood!

tmp00 said...

BTW- Damn, I miss having you in the next office!

Cantankerous Bitch said...

You'll enjoy what I hope is forthcoming from a guest blogger I've asked to comment on the issue. It'll be another item for your toolbox, and one you'll find thought provoking, I'm sure.

And agreed -- you're one of the few people I sincerely miss about That Place.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Just Some Guy posited eloquently:
"This is not quite true, but saying 'berdache' produces ripostes that question the relative power of that society and its ability to assert itself on the world stage."

First, props for making me look up "berdache". That being said, I'd venture to guess that the most vociferous objectors to this historical observation would have to look up most of the words in your post. So in that regard, I'm going to sit here and feel a bit smug.

Beyond that, a "successful society" clearly means, to these folks, "America". It's a euphemism at best, offered up to couch what is inherently, nationalism gone rabid.

And as for the "cheapening" argument, I've always found this to be one of the strangest. How can something so supposedly sacred, ordained by God, no less, be so vulnerable to the "whims" of popular culture? If marriage is the bedrock of our civilization, as the claim goes, doesn't this argument suggest that it's terribly fragile? Perhaps they'd better change their claims to "the balsal wood of our civilization".

Renee said...

Indeed, the slippery slope argument is one the anti-gay marriage pundits get the most mileage from, yet I doubt it’s the true reason they are so opposed to gay marriage. I think it’s more about exclusivity. No right-minded Repuklican wants gays anywhere near them except on pay-per-view. Certainly Bob and Jim aren’t welcomed into my Baptist church, nor are Elaine and Mary going to hold my hand during the Lord’s prayer.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

Well, sure. The power brokers of the GOP (disproportionally fundamentalist) are fully invested in the idea that they're the Chosen Ones. They're not about to surrender their "territory" and let just anyone into their club.

Renee said...

And that territory is expanding to schools, corporate Amerika, non-profits, and ultimatley the Supreme Court.

Cantankerous Bitch said...


Lily said...

On civil unions and
gay marriage, my questions (and they ARE
questions as I humbly remind you that I never
claim to "know". I am generally an asker and
hardly ever offer an answer. I find dialectics
I never intended by the way to say that
marriage is an unnacceptable term, I simply meant
to draw a distinction between a legal status and
a religious ceremony with a set of "rules" that
one either adheres to or they do not. It has
never made sense to me for people to say "I'm a
Catholic, but I am not against gay marriage,
birth control, abortion, etc." Well that of
course is not Catholicism, its having your cake
and eating it too for whatever reason anyone
would want to do that. What do you think of these
folks? Paradoxical obedience?
I think that my point was never about denying
portability or equating legal marriage with
religious, I only meant to point out that the
church has the right to define the parameters of
what they condone and those parameters ought to
have little or nothing to do with a definition of
marriage put forth by "the state". Whether we
call it civil unions, marriage, or something else
entirely, I do not see on what basis the right
can be denied. Obviously as I said I am all for
it. No matter what we call it, It certainly does
not hurt anyone as far as I can see, and does a
hell of a lot of harm to the victims of our
bigotry. That said...I fully understand the
implications of healthcare, insurance,
survivorship, alimony, etc. I do understand
federal recognition and I wish it applied to more
things too. I wish medical care, welfare,
education, and custody rights crossed state lines
too. I think the "separate but equal doctrine"
applies best when the religious aspect is shaken
out and it is boiled down to a legal argument for
extension of rights. The deeper question, if we
could get much deeper, is the legality of a
definition conferring legal status utilizing a
religious basis in the first place. Separate but
equal is secondary, separation in this respect
seems paramount to alleging unconstitutionality.
In a society that truly separates Church and
State, it is a violation of this separation to
use the term in the first place, as it originates
as a ritual. And has little to do with a standard
of partnership or co-habitation. beyond Brown, we
can look at both Case law and administrative law
concerning federal benefits and definitions of
co-habitation to bolster this cause as well. At
one time, a woman was denied welfare benefits if
a surprise visit indicated a "man in the house"
and she was claiming to be single. Case law
indicated that this established a pseudo-marital
state and on that basis, single parent benefits
could be denied. How is it that we do not look to
volumes of case law to establish precedent for
the governments use of circumstantial bases
versus gender ????
Let the church call it what they like and
our government-a separate entity, call it
something else. To distinguish and establish
correct protocol, not because civil unions are a
"sell out" to the real thing. I mean, we don't
exactly go around calling our penal codes "books
of sins". We distinguish between ritualistic
sacraments in our country, or we should. I think
this muddies the water with the legal argument
Semantics and word games- maybe. But part of
the problem is that we have become so entangled
with Christianity that we can hardly tell the
difference anymore and that is offensive to me
and many other people, gay or straight, and I
advocate a word to define legal partnership that
extends to ANYONE who finds themselves in
partnership circumstances, whether I refer to my
husband and myself, my friends, or anyone who
rejects a SINGLE definition of "life partners".
Just as the defintion of a "child" has changed to
include adoptive, etc. On that basis SO TOO
should we alter the definition of SPOUSE. We can
reasonably argue that if the law recognizes a
stepchild as "family" that this rationale should
apply to a spouse as well.
Now the argument was made to me recently
"Well, what about two friends, one wants health
benefits from the other's employer, or two
brothers, one wants to file taxes jointly with
the other. Isn't a definition of a "couple"
legally necessary on some level?
And yet another scenario, even better- if
marriage is between a man and a woman, how come
some men can have multiple wives? How is that
legal, and same sex marriage is not? We can look
to much more than Brown for legal precedent. THAT
was my point.

Renee said...

As a lesbian, I think the term marriage is the only appropriate term and we should fight to have that union recognized as such? Why? Because it's universal. If my partner gets sick in Canada, I can tell the hospial staff that we are married and get the same rights and benefits if it were a man and a woman.

Lily said...

Inherently religious terms should not be used as a basis for law, in a country that separates church from government -was actually the point. A legal basis for asserting SPOUSAL RIGHTS on the basis of legal definitions for familial relationships. I was suggesting a different legal basis for your ability to visit your loved one in Canada. Think about the statement that the term marriage is universal. Is it universal for an atheist? A mormon? SPOUSE is universal. You are talking about rights, not words. RIGHTS and PORTABILITY are legal status terms, rights that should be universal, terminology is terminology. Why is it that the term marriage and legal recognition go hand in hand? Must we all use "their" term to have rights? I want rights but I also want the right to reject a Judeo-Christian tradition that does not necessarily apply to me as an American. Per Se. I'm saying that heterosexual couples do not necessarily need to be called married either- do you follow? We are talking about a LEGAL basis beyond what Cantankerous btch described under "sep but equal". Beyone separate but equal, is sep. of church and state.. What about people of different faiths, do they not have rights? What about a gay atheist? That feel that utilizing a religious term to confer legal status is offensive in their eyes? Lets not mix apples and oranges, the point is not to say that RIGHTS and universality should not be extended to the fullest extent possible, as they would be for "married" people. My problem is with the fact that we do not have State religion, we do not need to call it that. We call it that for lack of a better word because we are so immersed in the subtleties of Christianity's influences. That immersion does not help anyone's cause, semantics aside.
You should have rights and benefits AND you should have the right to be an atheist, agnostic, pagan, mormon, quaker...satanist...whatever because this is America and we do not need to define ourselves and our social entities and institutions in ways that evoke dogma and religious rites. Make the dialogue about rights, less about what you call it and who defines it. "marriage" has many different meanings, not just a legal one. Why not leave the term with its happy creators and have a new term that adequately defines and legitimizes ALL partnerships???
I simply object to religious terminology as a basis of law. Law is law, church is church. Part of the problem is the lines are so blurred people cannot even recall which is which anymore.

Cantankerous Bitch said...

The state's co-opting of the term "marriage" is a fait accompli, now, no matter how much the current debate might challenge our definitions. To overcome it, we'll have to change a fundamental element of our conceptual lexicon, which, sadly, I think is more than we can accomplish in the near term. As a result, I tend to worry much less about the vocabulary (however appropriate the distinctions you point out are, Greenlily), and focus on the substance -- rights. After all, a significant portion of people I hear from insist that their objection to gay marriage isn't founded in religious beliefs. I may counter that their supposedly "secular" values are simply the result of religious value indoctrination throuhgout society, but some answer must be presented to sway these people. My trouble lies in the fact that their reasoning doesn't go much beyond "It's just wrong". There aren't too many places to go from that point without arguing the same points they rejected to begin with.

Lily said...

Ok, ok I concede on your terminology point but also think that this is the way it happens- so subtle, the way religion creeps in (some ways not subtle at all, ie the pledge, our money) and then it is so hard to separate...that is why I favor another word. Of course I think that gay couples should "marry" or "unionate" and of course I think it should be a federal,portable, legal, bonafide status in every sense.
I just think that the wording is part of the problem. To many religious people- it is beyond a question of lexicon and it is RELIGIOUSLY defined, not just legally defined and you will never get them to back off of that because they cannot. Any more then you would get them to eat twinkies for Communion. It is a different matter. If it were to be called a civil union with EVERY right that a married person has, I think that more religious people might back off of and say "well, it is not a GOD sanctioned activity but legally, well, ok...civil unions..." I have even heard religious people say "I will not call it marriage because that is defined and is a strict sacrament (resisted urge to laugh) just as baptism is, but a civil union is a legal term and since we separate religion from law in this country, well, ok"

Cantankerous Bitch said...

No, you're right, and I think that many people that support civile unions do so in an effort to accomplish exactly what you describe -- the bestowal of a legal status that will confer the rights of (m)arriage without pissing off the people that view (M)arriage as a religious thing. (Not to suggest that this is the ONLY grounds of their support, btw.) And in that vein, I have no problem with political concessions of this nature. They can call it Spouselage for all I care. I just want to know that my friends can reap the same benefits, no matter what kind of plumbing is between their partners' legs.

As for Twinkies at communion? That might just be enough to make me show up! ::grin::

Lily said...

Well where do we go from here though, thats the thing. What about solidarity and support of folks, and those renagade preachers that perform such ceremonies? See, its all talk, debate- but we need more concrete action. it isn't enough to say we are for this or that for our friends or for ourselves- no matter what we call it, I think a form of "spousalage" will go along way toward societal attitudes coming around. But what is to be DONE? Write our senators again? (wink)
I think we also need to attend and support and encourage- community awareness and inclusion. I know someone who helps organize a community gay pride event and I applaud her for it- but where are all her "straight" friends? We need to show up en masse, and start talking about some solidarity.