August 14, 2007
In which I continue to beat my head against the brick wall that is “civil unions”
This is an issue that seems so clear-cut to me. If I wanted to, I could grab Evil Bender — or any of my close male friends, really, who wanted to sign up for the fabulous benefits that come to the spouse of a graduate student — head down to the courthouse and sign up for a marriage license. There’s a three-day waiting period here in Kansas; back in New Mexico there isn’t a waiting period at all. The license costs less than $100 in both states. We’d have to show ID, but beyond that, we’d pretty much be all set to get married. We could get a (secular) judge to do that, or find a friend who has been or wants to be ordained through the Universal Life Church. God doesn’t need to come into the equation at all; indeed, I imagine we could concoct for ourselves a Satanic rite were we so inclined. (Just for the record, we wouldn’t be.) It would be a civil marriage. That’s what that means: non-religious. Purely governmental, as it were.
Given that fact, I quite simply just don’t understand how someone can support (or, at any rate, give lip service to supporting) “civil unions” that give the same rights to same-sex couples that marriage gives to opposite-sex couples, and try to assure interested parties that it’ll be exactly the same! Just… with a different name. (Memo to lawmakers and presidential candidates: consider how well “separate but equal” has worked in the past.) That’s the tack a number of the Democratic candidates are taking; others, e.g. Hillary Clinton, are trying the “it should be left up to the states” approach. It seems so cut-and-dried to me: if two U.S. citizens of the same sex want to get married, then why shouldn’t they have the right to do so? Is it possible to answer that question without betraying one’s bigotry? (At least John Edwards is able to admit that his opposition to same-sex marriage isn’t rational.)
So, as much as I find Mike Gravel to be an odd duck, I appreciate his response to Clinton saying that marriage equality should be left up to the states:
By drawing upon the language of states rights, Hillary embraces the tradition of John Calhoun and the defenders of slavery along with Strom Thurmond and the segregationists. Throughout our nation’s history, every time national public opinion turns against oppression, opponents of progress use states rights to present themselves as defenders of liberty in the face of federal power.
States rights has always been the last refuge of the bigots. Now Hillary has given rhetorical cover to the homophobes. If she wins the Democratic nomination, opponents of gay marriage will cite her statement to justify their opposition to national marriage equality over the next decade.
Pam has some excellent follow-up commentary, as usual (emphasis added):
Senator Clinton has held firm to a partial repeal of DOMA position that covers federal benefits. Yes, the states determine who may marry, however, the fact that the Supreme Court intervened in the matter in Loving v. Virginia back in 1967 in the case of interracial marriage is a big elephant in the room she and others have not addressed.
It would be more honest to say that the matter is “out of her hands” and will be decided by the Supreme Court, rather than clinging to a defense of states rights when the Loving precedent has already been set. Her position makes it obvious that the logical follow-up question is whether she truly believes there is no commonality between opposition of gay and lesbian couples that wish to marry and and what was faced by interracial couples (religion-based bigotry). I doubt that Clinton privately believes the situations are different, but her current (what she feels is politically safe) position, as Gravel notes, provides cover for the anti-gay crowd.
Gravel put the issue into clear and concise terms in his closing paragraph:
During the last week’s debate, I said that marriage equality is inevitable. But in order to achieve it, we are going to need leaders like we had during the civil rights movement — brave leaders who are willing to ignore the polls, overcome their personal hang-ups and fight for equal rights all Americans in all states.
I just want to reiterate that what the issue of same-sex marriage comes down to is just that: part of the fight for equal rights for ALL Americans. [Note that I said part of the fight: ENDA and DADT are other important parts, and I intend to write about those at some point as well.]