Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Should there still be DPs if there is marriage?

Not all gay people are thrilled about marriage equality. There is a distinct group that likes things the way they are. They are happy with domestic partnerships, and are worried that if marriage is legal, the status of DP will be eliminated. (In most states, DPs are not available to straight couples). They decry the idea that gay couples should be treated like straights, and required to marry if they want benefits like partner coverage. Instead, they think that DPs should be an option for everyone, straight or gay.

Writing in the NY Times, Katherine Franke says,
While many in our community have worked hard to secure the right of same-sex couples to marry, others of us have been working equally hard to develop alternatives to marriage. For us, domestic partnerships and civil unions aren’t a consolation prize made available to lesbian and gay couples because we are barred from legally marrying. Rather, they have offered us an opportunity to order our lives in ways that have given us greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.

It’s not that we’re antimarriage; rather, we think marriage ought to be one choice in a menu of options by which relationships can be recognized and gain security. Like New York City’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who has been in a relationship for over 10 years without marrying, one can be an ardent supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples while also recognizing that serious, committed relationships can be formed outside of marriage.

Here’s why I’m worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another.
Now, in France (as I've discussed), there is a civil union option that is widely viewed as "marriage lite", called a PAC. For political reasons, it is offered to both straight and gay couples (marriage is restricted to the straight couples only). The rate of marriage has dropped as straights have availed themselves of this option, preferring something less permanent-seeming than Real Marriage. That's the option preferred by Franke, who is worried that she will lose DP benefits and be forced to marry.

I admit, I'm confused. Why would you "settle" for something less than marriage? Franke again:
As strangers to marriage for so long, we’ve created loving and committed forms of family, care and attachment that far exceed, and often improve on, the narrow legal definition of marriage. Many of us are not ready to abandon those nonmarital ways of loving once we can legally marry.

Of course, lots of same-sex couples will want to marry as soon as they are allowed to, and we will congratulate them when they do even if we ourselves choose not to. But we shouldn’t be forced to marry to keep the benefits we now have, to earn and keep the respect of our friends and family, and to be seen as good citizens.

I wonder how much of this is related to LGBT folks of a Certain Age, particularly women who have ordered their lives in a way that goes against the patriarchal history of marriage. They've rejected that meaning of marriage because of that baggage. And maybe it's because of my age (although I'm not that young), but I just don't get it.

I want to be married. To me, the DP is a second rate option. And thus, I have no issue with certain legal benefits accruing to those willing to make that commitment, as long as all people straight or gay have the opportunity to do so. I don't want to live in the ghetto of "not willing to take that step".

To me,why WOULDN'T you marry, if it is legal? I leapt at the opportunity to participate in the process with my beloved, and every morning I wake up so grateful that I could. I wonder if it's a generational thing, or reflecting that fact that I have always been "assimilated" and not really connected to a "gay identity" or "lesbian identity" until the marriage issue came up.

Interestingly, Linda Hirsch thinks that marriage equality for LGBT people will mean more equal straight marriages too. Thus, that whole patriarchal notion is taking a hit.
Same-sex marriage represents the possibility that marriage can be an equal deal after all—or at least one where inequality is not locked in at birth. The conservatives are right: Same-sex marriage will change opposite-sex marriage. And it's a good thing, too.

….At each point along the road to women's equality, conservatives defended heterosexual marriage inequality on the grounds that women were naturally suited only for certain kinds of lives….

… W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and resident scholar at the Institute for American Values, argued that "women are not happier in marriages marked by egalitarian practices and beliefs." ….More church attendance, higher male earnings, and lower female expectations are instead the key to family happiness, Wilcox concludes.
Turnabout is fair play. As the arguments for heterosexual marriage inequality were used to fight same-sex marriage, so the success of same-sex marriage is a living refutation of the argument that marriage requires congenital natural inequality with women on the bottom. Even the campaign for same-sex marriage, consisting of a torrent of moving stories about the happy same-sex couples who want to get married, is a feminist windfall. Maybe marital equality and happiness aren't so incompatible after all.

So opening marriage to committed couples without the baggage of fixed gender roles will be good for everyone. And the baggage with which some people view marriage will be ameliorated.

Is there a state interest in supporting marriage over DPs, assuming that each is equally available? Should DPs continue to be available if (when) marriage is open to all couples?


Paul said...

Interestingly, Linda Hirsch thinks that marriage equality for LGBT people will mean more equal straight marriages too. Thus, that whole patriarchal notion is taking a hit.

Not surprising at all. Feminists have been saying for some time that this was why the right wing has reacted the way thy have to the gay issue. According to this view, the right finds egalitarian relationships very threatening.

JCF said...

First and foremost, those who currently have DPs should get to keep them (that is, they shouldn't automatically be re-classified as "married").

Beyond that, I'd just have to see the precise differences between them.

Is it NOT have the word "marriage", mainly? [In much the same way, ironically, as some of our phobic opponents fight so hard to deny us the WORD "marriage"?]

And if not (if there's more difference than just the term), what is it? Is there the presupposition that ending a DP won't be as legally (and/or financially) onerous as ending a marriage? [Obviously, kids are kids, whether the result of a marriage, DP, or simple schtupping, vis-a-vis child support]

Does the language of DPs convey less exclusivity/monogamy? I wonder if that may be an issue, too (stereotypically, for gay men. I've heard one describe his partnership as "monogamish")

My gut agrees w/ you, IT. If you're not up for "forsaking all others", you can create your own individual legal framework, but Marriage = Marriage (and that---civil marriage---should be the sole product of the state in the couples-authorizing biz).

But I'm willing to hear other arguments.

IT said...

JCF, DPs vary state to state in what they provide and how they are viewed. For example, of them are relatively easy to get out of, some (as in CA currently) require a judicial order a la divorce.

What seems common is that they do not come with any federal recognition, or promise thereof.

IT said...

Paul, exactly the point of the article I quoted. Heterosexism is just another form of sexism.

PseudoPiskie said...

I'd like to see DPs for all sorts of situations, not just "partners". I blogged about it.

Want Some Wood said...

Interesting article! As I've argued previously, I think the best and most successful case for gay marriage rights has to be a case for marriage in general, just as the case for extending voting rights to African Americans ultimately had to be a case for voting in general (Martin Luther King understood this well). One of the reasons I like this blog is because I think IT understands this, and would agree with me.

Also, while some liberals argue that the government should be totally neutral and "get out of the marriage business," I disagree. I think society has a general interest in encouraging marriage, and it's therefore appropriate for marriage to have some specific legal/tax benefits. The government can't (and shouldn't be able to, and never will be) able to make anyone get married, including people who think that marriage is fundamentally sexist/heterosexist/whatever. But government should have the ability to favor certain generally-desirable behaviors, including but not limited to marriage (and this obviously includes letting gay people participate). As far as the specific question of whether or not DP's should continue, I'm undecided.