It's an auspicious day for my first Bilerico post! The win in California is a huge civil rights victory. Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, deserves kudos for spearheading the litigation that resulted in today's 4-3 ruling that banning gay and lesbian couples from marrying violates the state's constitution.
So four years - almost to the day - since couples began marrying in Massachusetts, the California Supreme Court has handed the marriage equality movement its biggest win yet. Massachusetts has refused marriage licenses to most out-of-state couples; California won't do that. When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized same-sex marriage in February 2004, the streets outside City Hall filled with couples from around the country. Expect a repeat --- multiplied many times over --- beginning 30 days from now.
But a bit of caution before going overboard with celebrations. There's the inevitable ballot fight that will give Californians the chance to overturn the court's ruling by amending the state constitution, the way 26 other states have done. But I'm thinking of another reason to pause: giving same-sex couples access to the "special rights" of marriage has a downside for those in the LGBT community who don't marry, and we have four years of marriage in Massachusetts to prove it.
Some employers there no longer offer domestic partner benefits to their employees; it's marriage or nothing. So much for making marriage a choice for gay and lesbian couples.
And the Massachusetts courts can use marriage to decide who's a parent. In one case a woman identified in court papers as "T.F." gave birth to a child she and her partner "B.L." planned together. The child was conceived through unknown donor insemination with the consent of B.L. and the understanding that B.L. would also be the child's parent. The couple's relationship ended before the child was born, and the court refused to order B.L. to pay child support. Had T.F. and B.L. been married, the law would have clearly required B.L. to support the child she participated in creating. So much for the best interests of children.
The visibility of the marriage issue and the emphasis it has received obscures the issue raised by these examples: marriage is the wrong dividing line for deciding whether a relationship counts. The same-sex couples who don't marry, and the LGBT people who don't have romantic partners but do have relationships that matter to them, also deserve economic security and emotional peace of mind, through paths I explore in my book, Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage.
I'm also heartened that the California ruling suggests that the state could eliminate the name "marriage" for everyone. I'm all for that! Marriage carries the baggage of exclusion, subjugation of women, and religion. As long as it exists, same-sex couples shouldn't be denied it, but by all means let's get the word out of our laws for everyone!
So celebrate equality for same-sex couples who want to marry today! But let's not overlook justice for all of us - in places that allow marriage and in those that don't.