Tobi Hill-Meyer

Taking Marriage Out of The Battlefield

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | March 19, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: domestic partnership, LA Times, marriage, Ming W. Chin, Relationship recognition rights

That's what Ali Shams said was his intention when he and fellow college student Kaelan Housewright filed the Domestic Partnership Initiative. The initiative, which would remove the word "marriage" from all California law, replacing it with the term "domestic partnership," was approved one week ago by the Secretary of State for signature collection.

If the constitution of 29 different states define "marriage" as a relationship between men and women, yet are also bound to give equal rights regardless of sexual orientation, then one clear way out is to cease to define the state's relationship recognition rights under the term "marriage." Considering that one of the main arguments of the Yes on 8 campaign was that same-sex couples should be able to have their rights without calling it marriage, it's a strategy that has the potential for including many of the moderates who supported Prop 8 while abolishing the separate and unequal institutions of marriage vs civil unions.

The idea has been proposed a few times before, including by me, but this time people are actually paying attention. In an interview I had with Shams, he admitted to me that they had originally thought the idea was a "long shot" and they had just wanted to get people to think about the issues. While waiting for approval from the Secretary of State, however, California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin suggested the idea as a possible resolution to the conflict over Prop 8. Suddenly the media took notice, the LA Times wrote a supportive editorial, several blogs were discussing the idea, and within days the initiative was approved.

They scrambled to put the petition online. In the week since the initiative was approved, Shams and Kaelan doubled the membership of their facebook group, received over 100 emails from people asking to volunteer, and finished their finals as well. Now, they are setting up coordinators in major cities to recruit new volunteers, seeking out groups and organizations for endorsements, redesigning their website, and digging in for the long run. "It's at the point where we legitimately think that we could not just be on the ballot, but pass it," Shams says.

The initiative would leave marriage as a social/religious institution, but the government would only regulate domestic partnerships. Same-sex relationships would still not be recognized federally or in most other states, however, neither would opposite-sex relationships -- at least for now. "They wouldn't be recognized under the current DOMA," Shams said, "but California is a big state and the federal government can't ignore the almost 40 million people."

By lumping same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples in the same category without distinction, it would be impossible to give rights to or take away rights from some couples without affecting everyone else. Shams and Housewright figure that politicians would prefer to give federal recognition to same-sex couples if the only other option was to take federal recognition away from millions of married heterosexuals in California.

Domestic partnerships are usually seen as a less than ideal solution for same-sex couples, but that is because of the inability of such institutions to gain federal recognition and of the devaluing status of being placed in an institution deemed less than what opposite-sex couples get. With the potential for this domestic partnership initiative to gain federal recognition and be the only relationship recognition institution for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, this proposal has the prospects of becoming an end game solution for relationship recognition rights for monogamous couples.

At the same time Shams and Housewright have had some success reaching out to those who traditionally have opposed rights for same-sex couples. For example, They recently discovered an online Mormon discussion forum talking about it positively. Shams sees opportunity for agreement, especially "if it's semantics and just the word that is the problem," he said. "We're more or less taking marriage out of the battlefield." And it's a message that is beginning to resonate.


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Boy oh boy. Did you just open a 55 gallon can of worms. There are too many gay people who can care less how the government does it or what rights they get, because they will INSIST it has to be called "marriage," as if that word was so damn magical. Many are not fighting for equality, just the chance to use the word, regardless of what rights come with it.

I'm going to sit back, pop some popcorn and watch the whining begin. This will be fun to watch.

Kathygnome | March 19, 2009 2:09 PM

I disagree. The reason for seeking marriage rather than domestic partnerships is equality. If everyone is a domestic partner, that is equality. If separate was equal, the fight in California would be over as they have had domestic partnerships for quite some time. The fact is they're not equal.

In most cases, the word marriage comes with some rights. So not having the word means not having full equality. You're right some folks will still object, but in this case there will be full equality with opposite-sex couples.

Also, anyone can call themselves "married" right now. There's just the concern that same-sex couples will be singled out as not "really" married. But in this case, opposite-sex couples would be not "really" married to the exact same degree.

Enjoy your popcorn.

I always thought this was the better strategy for hick California. It'll be interesting to see if it works better than the marraige failure. If it does, the community will find some way to turn victory into defeat. They'll probably forget about CA and demand full marraige rights in Tehran.

I doubt this would pass, because if/when it becomes a serious threat, the Religious Right will mobilize their forces against it and win. Whether it's a good idea or not is kinda outside of the question, because these folks are very attached to the idea of state-run marriage.