Should we settle for civil unions?
There was a story in the AP last week questioning whether the GLBT community should focus on getting civil unions rather than on marriage.
In the weeks since Maine voters handed the gay marriage movement its 27th electoral defeat in five years, other activists have voiced similar qualms about making marriage their main goal. Gay rights leaders have insisted that anything less than full marriage equality is unacceptable, but some are asking whether the uncompromising strategy has forestalled interim steps that could improve the lives of gay men, lesbians and their families.
At some level this makes sense; what does it matter what you call it? HOWEVER, what we know is that it matters. Here are my reasons:
1) Civil unions (or domestic partnerships; DPs) vary widely from state to state in the rights and protections they provide, from WA and CA where they are supposed to be "just like marriage" to other states where their coverage is incomplete.
2) In fact, even in those states where they are supposed to be complete, they aren't. In CA you don't even get a DP in the same way; a $20 notary form is not the same as a marriage license and personal interview. There are numerous stories about legally registered partners STILL being denied health care access. If you are a state employee, your DP is not covered by the state long-term insurance plan. You have to litigate every single piece of coverage to be sure they are the same. This is why in NJ a commission found that civil unions are NOT the same, and the only remedy is civil marriage.
3) DPs and Civil Unions don't cross state lines or international boundaries. They only exist within the state for state law.
4) I resent like hell the notion that I have to "earn" my rights by some sort of probationary period. "Maybe when they see that the sky doesn't fall," people say. Well, the laboratory of Massachusetts shows that marriage equality has no ill effects on the society at large. I am not a 2nd class citizen and I don't have a 2nd class relationship.
5) The bad guys aren't any happier with DPs. Look what they did in WA: they tried to defeat a law that gave generous provisions to DPs, "marriage in all but name", and they almost succeeded. In Nevada and elsewhere, Republicans have opposed civil union laws. Indeed, they are so eager to outlaw any benefits, that in Virginia you can't even draw up a private contract protecting your partner.
"A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage is prohibited." It goes on to add that any such union, contract or arrangement entered into in any other state, "and any contractual rights created thereby," are "void and unenforceable in Virginia."Virginia is not for lovers. It's a state of hate.
The fact is, it isn't about the name of "marriage" or the concept of "marriage". It's about any recognition of our partnerships and families.
So, no, we shouldn't settle for civil unions. Separate but equal in this country is only separate, never equal.