Marla R. Stevens

Just Say No to Civil Unions -- Hard Evidentiary Version

Filed By Marla R. Stevens | January 24, 2009 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Brown vs Board of Education, civil unions vs marriage, New Jersey Civil Union Commission, separate and unequal

NOTE: I posted the bulk of this as a comment but Bil suggested it would make a better post so here goes:

jersey.jpgOften I hear LGBT people, usually well-meaning and wanting to avoid the conflict that the word "marriage" brings, urge us to drop the fight for the civil union standard that is civil marriage in favor of some other form of civil union, claiming that we can get all the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits of civil marriage but just call it something else so as not to stir up the hets who think they have exclusive rights to that law, confused and all-hell-fired-and-damnationed-up as they get by the fact that both the civil union of civil marriage and the religious union of religious marriage both use the word marriage and the poor het dears just can't seem to get unfreaked out enough to get it that they're not the same thing even if we afford them the convenience of doing the ceremonies for them both simultaneously if that's what they want and somehow us li'l queer children can't possibly get the point across and have time to do whatever queer stuff we'd rather be doing so we'd just better give up practically just as we're getting good and started and give those scary, angry hets the real thing while we settle for sloppy seconds -- again -- 'cause, well, you know...or some such tommyrot.

Of course, for some time now a few of us have been crying in the wilderness about things like portability, nonredundancy, separate ain't equal and never will be, that Brown vs Board of Education was built on some mighty powerful research about the severe harm that faux equality does to people's heads and that self-imposing more of it would be just plain shoot-yerself-in-the-foot dumb.

Finally, we've got real, live multiple-gummint-sponsored evidence that we were right all along.

I give you the New Jersey Civil Union Commission tasked with exploring the issue of whether civil unions sucked enough to warrant going to the trouble of changing the law to permit civil marriage for same-sex couples. They entered an interim report on it last February because their initial findings were so striking about the actual harm being done by their civil union law as opposed to using the marriage standard and their subsequent findings were equally as compelling enough to cause them to issue their final report both early and unanimously, on my birthday, December 10, 2008, no less, finding actual harm that they assessed would not be resolved by the passage of time necessitating a recommendation to the governor and legislature that the law be changed to provide for civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The reports and the testimony they're based on are beyond amazing and I encourage a full reading of all of them -- they're available on the Commission website in full. But I've pulled some of the many highlights for you to read here. Caution, have hanky handy, 'cause some of the testimony is pretty darned moving.

For instance, the final report states: "In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples." This is despite ample press coverage and official state notification, including to all healthcare providers, of the new law and what it covered.

The report is unequivocal:

... the provisioning of the rights of marriage through the separate status of civil unions perpetuates the unequal treatment of committed same-sex couples.

Even if, given enough time, civil unions are understood to provide rights and responsibilities equivalent to those provided in marriage, they send a message to the public: same-sex couples are not equal to opposite-sex married couples in the eyes of the law, that they are 'not good enough' to warrant true equality.

They were certain that time would not solve the problem:

The Commission is compelled to issue its final report now because of the overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognized by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time.

They noted that their conclusions were not localized to New Jersey but that New Jersey's experience was echoed in other civil union states, noting, in particular, another report issued in 2008 in Vermont:

Since the Commission issued its February 2008 [Interim] report, a similar commission in Vermont has issued a report detailing how the Vermont civil union law - in effect since July 1, 2000 - still does not provide the legal, medical and economic equality of marriage. Nearly a decade later, civil union couples in Vermont report the same obstacles to equality that New Jersey civil union couples face today.

They emphasized that, although federal DOMA would remain a significant barrier to equality, in the area of job benefits, particularly in health insurance where ERISA, the federal Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act that regulates companies that self-insure, and health insurance under collective bargaining union contracts was concerned, using the "marriage" instead of the "civil union" or "domestic partnership" terminology drastically improved coverage levels for families headed by same-sex couples, noting that ERISA, not antigay animosity, was the most cited reason by employers for noncompliance with the intent of the civil union law to provide equal benefits as marriage and that experience in Massachusetts of the benefit of using marriage terminology to overcome that was conclusive.

The report says that the fiscal/job- and insurance-related suffering and harm are not limited to isolated cases. In contrast, "In fact, the word 'marriage' can and does make a
difference to employers [and, consequently, to health insurance coverage], even within the constraints of federal law."

Noting the near-absence of ERISA-based discrimination against civilly married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, one union organizer stated, "It is not that ERISA-covered employers in Massachusetts don't understand that federal law allows them to refrain from providing benefits to same-sex married couples. It's that employers also understand that without the term 'civil union' or 'domestic partner' to hide behind, if they don't give equal benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, these employers would have to come forth with the real excuse for discrimination. Employers would have to acknowledge that they are discriminating against their employees because they are lesbian or gay" -- something that employers are increasingly unwilling to do, understanding that the public increasingly understands benefits to be a part of one's job compensation package and are increasingly unwilling to tolerate such blatant examples of unequal pay for equal work.

As GLAD testimony stated regarding when civil marriage terminology is used instead of civil union,

A company that makes coverage available to the spouses of heterosexual employees has to depart from its general rule covering married employees and draw a new line of discrimination in order to deny benefits to some married employees but not others ... [and, in Massachusetts,] companies ... have been unwilling to draw that line of discrimination and do, indeed, provide the same benefits to both their same-sex and opposite-sex married employees.

Further, as the civil union status makes both partners co-liable for their debts but simultaneously can be used to prevent them being both covered by insurance, some couples have faced the necessity to dissolve their civil unions rather than put their entire family financial well-being at risk.

As for psychological harm, the report was direct and left no doubt that civil unions literally cause it: "Equally important is psychological harm that same-sex couples and their children endure because they are branded with an inferior label. ... [quoting from their February Interim report] The Civil Union Act has a deleterious effect on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex youth and children being raised by same-sex couples. ... and the Civil Union Act has a particularly disparate impact on people of color" which is even further exacerbated when couples find it necessary to access the legal system for help in redressing grievances.

This problem is additionally compounded for all same-sex couples with fiscal challenges: "The State Public Advocate acknowledged the particular difficulty for lower-income same-sex couples who encounter discrimination because they have fewer resources with which to seek legal counsel and redress and who have difficulty meeting expenses if faced with reduced healthcare benefits" which is further complicated by their relative lack of backup documentation due to the added expense of obtaining it. They did, however, find that, among the non-poor, the prevalence of those seeking typically expensive backup documentation was very high, as experience with civil unions alone was proving very unsatisfactory.

They found that "denying same-sex couples access to the widely recognized civil institution of marriage while conferring the legal benefits under a parallel system using different nomenclature, imposes a second-class status on same-sex couples and sends the message that it is permissible to discriminate against them."

The report states that civil unions institutionalize second-class status with predictable negative effects that, according to a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor, "contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders" due to being "branded with an inferior label."

Quoting further from their Interim Report, the Commission notes additional negative effects of civil union versus civil marriage equality, including that the "requirement that same-sex couples declare civil union status, a separate category reserved for same-sex couples, exposes members of the United States military to the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy" and that the "classification of civil union may place marital status in question when one of the partners is transgender."

As the report notes, civil marriage, in contrast, has positive benefits in this regard, "The socially sanctioned right of gay marriage which is qualitatively different than civil unions, the right to choose one's spouse, has a positive impact on self-esteem, sense of being validated in the eyes of the community, and on the internalization of ideas of commitment and responsibility to others, something that is sorely needed in our society currently.

"Nothing is more basic from a mental health perspective to happiness and liberty than the right to love another human being with the same privileges and responsibilities as everyone else."

In other words, the words do matter: "... the difference in terminology, between 'marriage' and 'civil union,' stigmatizes gays and lesbians and their families because they are singled out as different. Witnesses stressed that words are incredibly important and powerful and that marriage is a term of 'persuasive weight' that everyone understands and respects."

The report noted testimony on a variety of types of harm and suffering to children of same-sex parents as well as to LGBT children as a result of the stigmatization of separate and unequal that is civil unions "which can lead to", among other things, "teasing and bullying", noting that, "when the government treats people differently, it emboldens private citizens of any age to follow suit."

I found the testimony of the observations of schoolteachers of the behavior of even very young students particularly enlightening as well as the psychiatric testimony regarding that, although children born to parents in civil union contracted relationships are legally legitimate, they are often not viewed as such by their peers due to the perception that only marriage conveys legitimacy and that this is a strong source of stimatization of these children, forty-three percent of whom face, at minimum, "verbal harassment" by peers in school.

The civil union status of their parents also affects children's perception of the stability and safety of their families: "youth ... report that hearing that their family can't have the same rights as other families leads them to feeling scared or confused ... They say that they think somebody is going to come and break up their family."

In contrast, children of the civilly married psychologically benefit from their parents being in a relationship defined by a word that is universally understood. For them, "It's a big deal." They have a "sense of validation of being part of a real family" -- something particularly profound for adopted children and children of divorce. As one young man so eloquently described:

Every time [when I was younger] I let somebody in and I said, 'Hey, I have to tell you something,' I'd say, 'My parents are gay,' and no matter what they said, my next reaction was, 'Don't tell anybody.' And that's no way to grow up.

After my parents got their marriage license, all that changed. For the first time in my life I could stand there and I had a word to describe my family and that word could describe it to everybody because everybody already knew what a marriage was. You know, they didn't have to question.

It's been the biggest thing in my life. You know, I can't stop talking about my parents. It's easier for me to go around and talk to friends that I've had for 20 years, to go up to them and speak about my family openly now and they get it. When you say that your family is married, they just get it and there's not a question. I just wish it would have happened when I was little, so I didn't have to go through all this stuff.

It was just the best feeling I ever had. And part of it, too, I think was I felt like finally I was protected. My parents' fears probably creeped into my subconscious mind too as a kid, that they would lose me for some reason.

I've watched young gay couples, teenagers, 15 year olds, walk up to my parents and say, 'You guys are heroes.' And you can see in their eyes that finally there's hope that their relationship is just as good as anybody else's. There's a future in their relationship. I was happy for every other little kid out there, that they didn't have to go through the same stuff.

I see the huge weight lifted off my parents' shoulders. When they talk to their co-workers at work or their boss, it's huge. To not tell your lifelong friends or your boss for 20 years about your spouse, it's a tough thing to live with, and it's something that people shouldn't have to live with, especially the kids.

But that was the story of a young man whose parents had a real civil marriage, not a civil union.

LGBT youths report that the civil union situation has left them feeling "angry, confused, and upset." Reported one, "Today (a classmate) asked me, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' I said, 'No, actually, I have a girlfriend. You might know her.' And he said, 'You have a girlfriend? That's wrong, that's a disease. You need to go get help for that.' And I was like, 'Why is it a disease?' And he was like, 'You can't get married. Well, that's why, you can't get married. Obviously something is wrong with it.'"

Civil unions attack the basic dignity of adult same-sex couples, too, and put them in peril: "Many witnesses who are in civil unions described situations in which they were forced to explain their civil union status, what a civil union is, and how it is designed to be equivalent to marriage. These conversations include the indignities of having to explain [and often have to go to unusual lengths to prove] the legal nature of their relationship, often in times of crisis, and the obstacles and frustrations encountered when using government, employer, or health care forms that do not address or appropriately deal with the status of being in a civil union."

Further, as couples typically find it necessary to reinforce documentation of their relationship status using old standards such as powers of attorney and medical consent forms that use other labels besides civil union or marriage, "confusion as to the labels applied to same-sex relationships and resulting misunderstandings can lead to both intentional and unintentional discrimination and hardship", a situation that civilly married couples have fewer problems with, the report concludes.

The report also dashes the seemingly reasonable hope most typically given for taking the civil union shortcut -- that civil unions will provide protection in times of medical crisis: "Civil unions create challenges to equal health care access."

Civil unions are not infrequently considered suspect or fraudulent, documentation is demanded of civil union couples in New Jersey at far higher rates than for civilly married couples in Massachusetts, for instance, and, even when provided, testimony in case after case showed that proper access was unduly postponed until authorities could be made to understand the rights involved -- with enough near-tragedies that actual tragedies are reasonably predicted should the law not be changed.

As stated in the report, "In times of crisis, it is unfair and unreasonable to ask people in a state licensed relationship to have to explain that relationship [civil union relationship]; to explain why they are legally entitled to hospital visitation rights, to explain why they are legally entitled to make final arrangements for their deceased spouse. Yet, as a practical matter, civil unions impose this unreasonable burden."

People understand marriage. From the testimony of a Massachusetts married lesbian:

I do health and safety work with ... big construction unions. I went down to the labor training center a few weeks after [we got married]... . All these big burly guys come and say, 'Well, I guess we should say congratulations, huh?' And I'm like, 'Oh, oh, yeah. Thanks.' Then another guy walks in and says, 'How does it feel to be married now? How's married life?' You know, because that's what people understand ... And they get it.

Contrast that to the New Jersey civilly unioned/unionized/unified couple who showed the Commissioners a

flash drive that both ... keep on their key chains. Their flash drives contain living wills, advanced health care directives, and powers of attorney for the couple, as they fear being unable to adequately explain their relationship to emergency room personnel during a medical crisis. The witness testified that opposite-sex married couples need not live with this uncertainty because a mere declaration that someone is the 'wife,' 'husband,' or 'spouse' of someone who is ill will provide immediate access and decision-making rights.

Not to belabor the point but the commission, in its interim report called civil unions "an invitation to discriminate" and a " 'justification to employers and others' to treat same-sex couples as 'less than' married couples." The final report stated that "relatives, medical caregivers, and individuals in positions of authority take cues from the government's decision to categorize same-sex couples differently."

They found that:

the civil union law has resulted in economic, medical and psychological harm for a number of same-sex couples and their children. This Commission believes that as long as New Jersey maintains two separate systems to recognize the unions of same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples and their children will face a challenge in receiving equal treatment. Under a dual system, these and future families will suffer economic, medical and psychological harm.

They further found that "even if all employers in New Jersey were suddenly to provide benefits to employees in civil unions equal to the benefits provided to married employees - an unlikely proposition in itself - such compliance would not cure much of the inequality perpetuated by the civil union law" and that, persistence of federal DOMA and ERISA-permissable discrimination notwithstanding, "a marriage statute would cure much of the harm perpetuated by the existing civil union law".

Reporting that time does not fix the problem, using Vermont as evidence, the Commission states, "even eight years after enactment, Vermont's Civil Union Law has not resulted in true equality although it purports to provide protections equal to marriage. ... [Quoting from the April, 2008, State of Vermont report,] 'Time cannot and does not mend the inequality inherent in the two separate institutions.'"

I advise reading the material in the report regarding what courts in California and other states have said regarding civil unions not being able to be made equal to civil marriage. The Supreme Court of Connecticut, in its October 10, 2008, decision on the matter is typical:

... in light of the history of pernicious discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians, and because the institution of marriage carries with it a status and significance that the newly created classification of civil unions does not embody, the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm. ...

... Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means 'equal.' As we have explained, the former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter most surely is not. Even though the classifications created under our statutory scheme result in a type of differential treatment that generally may be characterized as symbolic or intangible, this court correctly has stated that such treatment nevertheless 'is every bit as restrictive as naked exclusions' because it is no less real than more tangible forms of discrimination, at least when, as in the present case, the statute singles out a group that historically has been the object of scorn, intolerance, ridicule or worse.

That court also found, as described by the New Jersey commission's Final Report, "Excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage will not make children of opposite-sex marriages more secure, but it does prevent children of same-sex couples from enjoying the immeasurable advantages that flow from the assurance of a stable family structure in which the children will be reared, educated, and socialized."

The Connecticut court also found, according to the New Jersey Final Report, that civil unions "discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation". Why would any of us ever actively promote that, especially merely to avoid what is, in reality, an unavoidable conflict and one we are getting ever closer to resolving in our favor? Are we so banal, so self-absorbedly short attention spanned, so short-sighted, and so childishly impatient to give in so soon? In light of the New Jersey and Vermont commission findings, the notion is, simply, obscene.

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Wow. Thank you for this. It's one of the best explanations of why we need marriage (and not civil unions)... and why we need to keep fighting for marriage rights in the states and federally. As someone who has in the past said "civil unions are a good start..." I won't be saying that again. I'm forwarding this to my friends.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 25, 2009 3:41 AM

The report itself is well worth disseminating, too, and contains many more of the personal stories that help convey these issues in ways that reach people at the level of their hearts, from whence comes the motivation to change.

My God that was long! How on earth do you expect Tammy Lynn Michaels to be able to read that in one sitting?

Just kidding, that was awesome. Thank you.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 25, 2009 3:50 AM

Thank you. I could've editted down but, instead, as I read more of the reports, I kept finding more stuff I wanted to share from them -- things that I'd been saying or feeling all along that, in the reports, had new grounding in research, findings of experts, and the broad experience reflected in the large amount of testimony taken.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 25, 2009 5:54 AM

But, if you need a shorter intro to/synopsis-review of the Commission report for some practical purpose (or just good reading), check out Joanna Grossman's piece, Separate is Not Equal, According to the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission: The Implications of Its Findings that the Civil Union Alternative "Invites and Encourages Unequal Treatment" on FindLaw at

There's a lot, a lot, a lot that comes to mind after reading this. But I'll restrict myself to three issues.

First, those who fight for civil unions (which could potentially, like, potentially, certain forms of domestic partnership not have to be romantic relationships) aren't necessarily doing so because they're trying "to avoid
the conflict that the word "marriage" as not to stir up the hets who think they have exclusive rights to that law." That kind of contextualising conveniently portrays the civil unions issue as a battle between meanie hets and too-compliant lgbts. In fact, there's a sound basis for arguing that civil unions, or some form thereof, could provide the exact same benefits, and that we could argue for decreasing the importance of marriage itself. But I'm struck by the extent to which this particular argument against civil unions can't let go of the sentimental attachment to marriage as the most privileged form of relationship. In fact, I'd argue that this isn't really about why marriage is better, it's about *why* marriage should be *seen* as better.

As if to prove my point (and this brings me to my second issue), much of the argument against civil unions, as presented here, is awash in a nineteenth-century vision of the perfect family and replicates some positively Dickensian ideas about shame and belonging and supposedly natural families. I'm reeling from the shock of reading these lines:

"In contrast, children of the civilly married psychologically benefit from their parents being in a relationship defined by a word that is universally understood. For them, "It's a big deal." They have a "sense of validation of being part of a real family" -- something particularly profound for adopted children and children of divorce."

Is this what feminists, of all genders and sexual orientations, have fought so long and hard for? To finally be told that we still live in a world where children, like bastard/out of wedlock children of yore, need to feel ashamed about the fact that their parents aren't married?? Yes, the argument can be made that this isn't making that argument, merely stating a form of reality or some such -- but let's face it, it does perpetuate that idea unquestioningly. If a right-winger from, oh, God Hates Fags, made these statements about real families, how would we respond?

"They have a "sense of validation of being part of a real family." How do we define a "real family? And why? I'm writing this in January 2009, the same week that we inaugurated as President a man who was raised in an alternative family structure. Yes, he's written about the pain of not knowing/being deserted by his father ... but hey, look, he's now the President! And, whatever else I might feel about conventional politics and his policies, the dude is pretty stable and calm and even, dare I say, all the better for having had to figure out his place in the world.

Finally, re: "This problem is additionally compounded for all same-sex couples with fiscal challenges: "The State Public Advocate acknowledged the particular difficulty for lower-income same-sex couples who encounter discrimination because they have fewer resources with which to seek legal counsel and redress and who have difficulty meeting expenses if faced with reduced healthcare benefits." And marriage helps them ... how?

I don't get this part at all. So, poor couples can benefit from marriage because...? I have a completely different idea. Make the laws such that poor people aren't screwed over by the legal system just because they can't afford representation. Regardless of their marital status.

While I generally don't use my experience to justify my points, allow me to make an exception here. I'm poor. And currently mired in the court system because of "fiscal" issues. Some might call that "fiscally challenged." I prefer "poor." The bankwallahs try not to laugh when I come in through the doors. And I am T.I.R.E.D of being used by the marriage movement as the poor sodden body that would benefit most from marriage. Does it occur to anyone that poor people, ahem, pointing to self here, might actually have a politics around and resistant to marriage? And aren't just pathetically hoping for a lousy few crumbs of recognition from the marriage crowd? Why should two people unite in poverty?

I know the arguments against this: "We have to deal with the reality of the system." "Change will come from above." "Etc." In the meantime, with the kind of language that replicates an outdated notion of shame about certain families and the idea that we should naturalise poverty, we're making a mess even messier.

With all due respect, I think I've said all I have to say here and will choose to be someone who "posts and runs" in this case, which is not my usual style. I'm worn down and shocked by the sheer heartlessness and retrograde language of the Commission. I'll probably check in to see what people are saying. But, honestly -- and I rarely admit to such feelings - this leaves me very, very sad and depressed. I just needed to leave something here in the hope that folks will consider the implications of such skewed findings.

For those of you who actually think this is the sort of world you want your children to grow up in, of "real" families and stigmatised offspring, good luck sustaining your fantasy of what the world looks like. When did we stop deciding to change the world?

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 25, 2009 5:16 AM

Yasmin, this may come as a surprise, but I agree with you about the need to relook at the legal and socio-politics of family structures. It's just that this is a piece about findings that say, essentially, civil union apartheid (having one type for opposite-sex couples and having another type for same-sex couples because the former is a sacred cow that the latter's untouchable people shouldn't be allowed to defile) sucks -- that separate is unequal and that it causes harm in ways that harken back to Brown with some additional twists due to the ways that ERISA and labor union contracts work --whereas it appears that you're talking about the relative superiority of one form of civil union over another (where everyone is already accorded equal access to whichever structure or structures are made available to help families bring legal order to their lives) and the need to rethink how we as a society deal with the variety of family structures and related issues both under the law and otherwise.

The piece is exclusively directed to the point of whether non-civil-marriage civil unions are an acceptable substitute for civil marriage when civil marriage is the standard, not whether civil marriage or another form (or multiple forms) of social structure like a non-civil-marriage civil union should be adopted as the standard(s) for all. They are not the same and it does not help the discussion of either to confuse one for the other.

The legitimacy/diversity of family structures issue is one of these issues affected by which of the above problems' lenses you're looking through. The differential in the sense of "realness" in one sense is worsened by the doubling of the stigma. Of course, the existence of the base stigma of legitimacy is Dickensian
but the fact that two stigmas makes the stigmatization worse doesn't make a call to remove one the cause of the existence or pain of the other. Again, it's apples and oranges.

As for slogging through stigmatizing circumstances and making it out on the other side being annealing, yes, it is. But, seriously, you're not arguing that we should perpetuate injustice to give people such experiences, are you? We, as queers, already know about the annealing effects of coming out, for instance, and have solid data that those of us who make it out to self-acceptance are psychologically healthier and stronger, in the aggregate, than our het peers who did not have to go through that process. But we know, too, how many casualties are taken along the way and we fight for the day when no one has to suffer. This is no different. I know no one except religious-traditionalist opponents of civil marriage equality who would use civil marriage equality as a hammer against those whose parents did not avail themselves of it. The notion is ludicrous.

Included in both the interim and final commission reports was that civil marriage as opposed to non-civil-marriage civil unions help all people avoid discrimination in employer-based healthcare and other benefits, particularly ERISA and those involving union contracts. I encourage you to read the reports to see the details of why.

The poor experience this disparity more deeply because they lack resources to fight it and lack resources to prevent it through job portability freedom and backup document creation. I remember reading previously that ERISA, in particular, disproportionately affects the working poor, which, if that still holds, would exacerbate the disparity even more. It is possible, however, to fight for better access to the legal advocacy system and other such poverty-related issues touching this as you suggest without abandoning the fight against civil union apartheid.

Further, close-coupled relationships fiscally benefit couples of all income levels and ones legally recognized via civil marriage increase the benefit. This report shows that non-civil-marriage civil unions, however, impose certain bars to equal benefit in direct opposition to the claims of those who say that non-civil-marriage civil unions can be made equal to civil marriage ones.

I agree, but see my post over at Pamshouseblend about same-sex marriage helping the economy. I quoted you in the piece. We have to go from a gimme gimme gimme mindset to helping the economy and President Obama. His writings are really from the heart.

Hey, Charles,

I heart you for quoting me (and we'll quibble about the economy point later :-)) but, um, at the risk of being a complete dork - did I actually write that? And if so, where? I ask in all seriousness, only because I want to be sure I'm not getting credit for someone's else's words. They're pretty good lines, and I would actually like them *be* mine :-)... but just want to be sure because I can't find them under my name when I google them.

When I taught writing, I let my students know that even the slightest hint of plagiarism/taking credit for the work of others would earn them eternal misery on earth, personally administered by me. Hence my geeky paranoia here.

And if those words are mine, and I've failed to recognise them, eternal embarassment is mine!

Thanks for letting me know!

I am happy to see someone in the LGBT community with a realistic view of this issue. In my opinion, those who want to assimilate into the heterosexual society to become part of the "collective" are missing some of the basic lessons that trans people have already learned. Assimilating does not make you any safer or any more accepted. Resisting assimilation is NOT futile. But, the Western, Judaeo-Christian mindset of, "You have to be married to have a real family" is BS. Always has been.

My apologies. Thanks for letting me know. I am taking an online course at with a famous OpEd political writer and will correct this for my assignment due in today. I thought I would give it a try on dear Pam's blog for comments and criticism before I handed it in. The humorous remark was made by diddlygrl on your Bilerico thread about Bishop Robinson praying at the inauguration "Why the HELL---------
I will correct it. I didn't see a little c next to diddlygrl's user name or Bilerico, so I presume this is a public forum and as long as one gives credit then it is OK to quote from it. I hope this error did not cause pain to you, "diddlygrl", her feminine hygiene products or Bilerico reputation and standing in the LGBT community of rural Indiama, shame, mortification, hurt feelings, embarrassment, humiliation [and] damage to the value of diddlygrl's name, likeness and goodwill. I used it to give a touch of levity to lightenup my technical introduction to my OpEd. Not sure "church of the cheese cracker" can be copyrighted. I assumed that Diddlygrl is not a real name but then again I have been mistaken before.

I see now. It's about self esteem. Well grow up. People who need a label to define themselves probably shouldn't be making strategy for the rest of us.
Anecdotal evidence doesn't prove jack. You can find someone to say anything, often by asking a leading question.
However long it is, a list of statements without supporting data is not a valid argument. Without evidence, the committee tells us 'the... law has resulted in ... harm', 'the law has not resulted in equality', and civil unions were denied benefits and respect. If there were a difference in coverage, which the article claims without proof, maybe it was because marraige States were more pro gay than civil union States, and the latter need time to get used to the idea. But I forget, we have moral perfection on our side and the Universe will bow to our demands some time in the next 3 minutes. The committee, meanwhile, sees into the future and knows that civil unions will never be granted benefits and respect.
It's amazing, the lengths people will go, and the ton of rhetorical bulls--- they'll generate, to justify a loosing strategy. Nothing has changed in 30 years, judging by the fuss over Warren, the idea that the canceled convention room orgy was a civil rights issue, the demand for marraige despite millions of people who will not only fight it but also use it against our allies, and the taste for liberal secularists who've yet to raise a finger for us over justice loving christians who fight for us as the abolitionists fought.
The victim complex is still making strategy for the community, and it isn't going anywhere.

It's not just the word that's important, it's the substance.

A quote of part of a letter from the Australian Attorney-General:

You queried how the Australia Government's same-sex reforms affect transgender individuals who remain married after surgery. As you may be aware, the same-sex reforms amend 84 Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination against same-sex de facto couples and their families from a wide range of Commonwealth laws and programs.While the reforms do not expressly address the sex or gender diversity of specific individuals, they ensure that same-sex de facto couples and their families are recognised and have the same entitlements as opposite-sex de facto couples. A transgender individual who remains married after surgery will not be deemed to be no longer married as a result of the reforms. The effect of the reforms is that such an individual will receive the same treatment regardless of whether they are considered to be a member of a same-sex or opposite-sex couple.
Without the repeal of DOMA or other legislation that removes the rights of marriage at a federal level, as used to be the case in Australia, we still have problems.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 25, 2009 5:30 AM

Thanks for bringing that important statement into the discussion, Zoe. You're right that DOMA repeal is essential for full equality under the law but one of the more interesting findings of the Commission reports is that removing civil union apartheid where it exists goes a long way to solving some problems that were previously thought unfixable sans DOMA repeal.

You'll be interested in reading further in the final report to see the concerns about the potential annulling effect on existing marriages of the transgendered of the existing New Jersey civil union law, which the Commission found would not be a concern should New Jersey adopt a single civil union standard of civil marriage for all. I only briefly touched on it in my piece because it was more speculative than their other findings but the Commission did give that as one of their top reasons for recommending opening civil marriage to same-sex couples.


Waste of time if you ask me, and others here have made the case against gay marriage better than I.

Give me a call when you want to advocate something that benefits more than just upper middle class privileged white gays.

I'm with Yasmin. This post epitomizes the most objectionable argument of the marriage movement folks, which goes something like this: "marriage is just better, purer, and more virtuous and everybody knows it."

I'm especially offended by the use of children to make the argument. So the kid is happy because now he doesn't have to tell his friends that his parents are gay; he can tell them his parents are married! Married is SO much better than gay.

Next you'll be trotting out a study that proves that puppies live longer in married families. Then you can call people who don't support marriage puppy-killers. Spare me.

Huzzah yourself.

Calling civil unions aparthied like is exactly right.

Civil unions, even if they guaranteed all the financial and legal rights and privileges that come with a marriage license would still constitute the imposition of a second class status on GLBT if everyone could get married but us.

I agree with the idea that we should support fights for same sex marriage because substantial number of people in the GLBT communities want to get married. The religious/political right (formerly FOF/Rove and now Warren/Obama) opposes them. We should all be prepared to support our brothers and sisters while perusing other parts of ‘The Gay Agenda’ such as ENDA and the hate crimes laws that were both torpedoed by the Democrats.

In the long run questions of interpersonal relationships cannot be solved in the context of the thoroughly reactionary social system we live in. At some point after government of, by and for the patriarchal rich will be interred and replaced by government of, by and for allied GLBT folks, minorities and working people. Then and only then will we see interpersonal relationships mutate in healthier directions.

Judging today’s struggles for partnering relationships that unfold in a backward, bankrupt society by what will inexorably replace them is putting the cart before the horse. Until we get to the point where the debate over relationship norms can actually be addressed rationally, and as long as part of the LGBT movements wants same sex marriage and it’s denied them, we should support their fight.

It’s elementary.

It perplexes me why we wish to continue giving validation to an institution, which clearly violates a separation of church and state.

Should we not be moving forward instead of just "going with the flow"? Thereby correcting past mistakes and advancing the cause of liberty.

What the government bestows to heterosexual couples is not a "marriage" contract or license, and its name is simply a misnomer.

The state issues a contract of partnership, period. Within the contract, it outlines legal benefits and responsibilities.

What the contract does not do is in anyway validate the "holiness" of a purely religious ceremony.

Until we understand this simple principle, it is my estimation that we shall continue to fail.

Let alone that all this post truly advocates, perhaps unknowingly, is a continuation of a patently discriminatory institution.

Our "admission" to the club does nothing to advance equality in a true sense.

Long live civil partnerships and the true advance of human equality.

"I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." - Groucho Marks -

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 25, 2009 3:18 PM

Wow, Marla! Given our offline conversation in the past couple of days concerning this subject as a possible "Point and Counterpoint" scenaio between the two of us, my opening your post and reading all of the chapters, er, comments following it not yet quite 24 hours later is making me re-think the whole contemplated exercise. And here I had been assured that the Bush "pre-emptive war" doctrine ended at noon last Tuesday. (:

Seriously, as we've discussed recently, my disagreement with most of your opinions are more ones of degree and emphasis than substance. And the nature of several of the comments you've already received indicates that the LGBT world isn't neatly divided between those insisting on full marriage by that name and those who would be content with something arguably less "perfect" at least as an interim measure. Some don't seem to like the concept of "committed coupledom" recognized/supported by our legal system, by whatever name. Others think the whole debate belongs much further down, if indeed at all, in the list of LGBT priorities. And the whole "marriage vs. civil unions" debate likely seems like the proverbial "counting angels on the head of a pin" to many in Flyover Country whose state constitutions have either removed the discussion from the stage or, like in my state of Indiana, such a move continues as a threat.

Anyway, I'll keep watching the comments to see how many folks might agree with my position, with the advantage on my part being that they don't quite know what it is.....yet.

Don't ask.....and I won't tell.

I wouldn't take the psychological impact statements from this post as a sign of the way things should be, but as the way they are. Yes, it's 2009 and people are still made to feel shame about their family structures. And I don't think I've seen the the phrase "alternative family" in the same sentence as "Barack Obama" in a major media outlet yet, which I think stems from the shame around this issue.

The solution is obviously not just to let same-sex couples into marriage, but to also create a civil union structure for everyone and to expand many of the rights associated with marriage beyond marriage.

I still think that the commission's findings are useful to at least know where we are in this.

Marla, that's a good post explaining the report. I'm better for having read it, and the comments on this post as well, more colorful commenters who think that Indianapolis is rural and that misattributing quotations isn't a big deal in traditional media aside.

DanaRSullivan | January 26, 2009 2:04 PM

(Responding to the comments here, not the post.) I get that the institution of marriage isn't (or shouldn't be) the benchmark for family life and relationships, but I don't understand why that would be a reason to keep marriage illegal for same-sex couples. I think the U.S. military is a very screwed-up system and I would be privately disappointed if any of my close friends chose to join, but I still think Don't Ask Don't Tell should be repealed, because they should *have* that choice. A gay person's right to serve openly in the military has nothing to do with what I think about the military, or whether I think a gay person would be making a mistake to join.

Likewise, a gay person's right to get legally married, if that's what they want to do, has nothing to do with whether legal marriage is "good for us", "bad for us", a meaningless trophy, or a threat to gay culture. It's about choice.

That's a healthy outlook. I have seen so many people think that their need to get married and their need to use the word "marriage" superceeds anyone else's views on the issue. "It's all or nothing, and what you think isn't right." Then they like co-opting a Civil Rights statement, "seperate but equal" as their montra of proving they are right and everyone else is wrong. Being seperate is a good thing for me, because I feel I'm unique and that I don't want to be part of the straight's Borg collective. Your anology of using DADT is a wonderful example.

DanaRSullivan | January 26, 2009 3:42 PM

Thank you. I think both sides of this issue can be a little more careful of how they phrase things. People fighting to get same-sex marriage legalized (which is where I stand) should make sure they don't snub alternative relationships and families in the process. But I've also heard people say that because *they* don't want to get married, it's a good thing that all the gay couples who do want it are being denied the choice. Just making it a legal option wouldn't force anyone to adopt a traditional family model.

That is so true. I want a choice to decide how my family will look, but unfortunately, I live in a state that no longer gives me a choice, and may never have one. Repealing DOMA won't do a damn bit of good in Georgia.

As a trans person, I have learned quickly to allow people the right to self-identify. I don't have the right to tell someone their label choices are wrong. Too many trans people try to tell others how to identify and what the "correct criteria" is needed to label yourself with your choice of words. They show no respect to others.

The marriage issue is the gay version this same thing, where gay people tell other gay people how they are suppose to decide what their family unit should look like and what label is acceptable. They are also setting the "correct criteria" for what is an acceptable union between two people and not showing respect for other's viewpoints on the issue. No one trans person has all the right answers for other trans people, just as no one gay person has all the right answers for other gay people.

DanaRSullivan | January 26, 2009 4:34 PM

Also, I don't want to make a big deal of it, but a nice part of bridging the divide might be to not imply that getting married makes people less unique or that it makes you a part of a "Borg collective". That's snubbing someone else's relationship just as surely as people have snubbed yours.

Thank you so much for this article. I just found it today but it is ironic that you wrote it just two days before a man and his business associate decided to single handedly attempt to get "Civil Partnerships" on the ballot in Arizona in 2010. Despite the advice of every gay group in the state to work only for full equality he has trudged ahead holding himself out to speak for all of us and reiterating the same fallacies you point out from the NJ report in your article.

Now we will not only be fighting the right wing for full rights but one of our own who thinks his experiences as a "Civil Partnership Consultant" in the UK allows him to know everything there is to know about US law on the subject. He doesn't even understand the difference between a "commitment ceremony" and Civil Marriage.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | January 30, 2009 11:58 AM

As I recall the recently enacted Arizona amendment by its terms bars only marriage between same-sex couples and does not go the further step that a number of other amendments (like the one currently proposed in my home state of Indiana) also bar a "legal status idential or substantially similar to" marriage. I'm not necessarily in agreement with Marla in her sweepeing criticism of civil unions, although our differences seem to be more in terms of degree. I would agree that the LGBR community and others in Arizona ought to know the downside of the proposed "civil partnerships", but at the same time to the degree that the debate serves to emphasie the inequality involved, it ought not to be totally trashed. I think this a perfect example of why, at least from a strategy viewpoint, there ought not to be a "one size fits all" approach, because each state, paticularly in "flyover country" is in a different place.

Marla Stevens | August 6, 2009 7:20 AM

Interesting that my state, Iowa, became not too long after Don's insinuation that 'flyover territory' was somehow such a lost cause that its citizens should have to settle for sloppy seconds where bringing legal order to our relationships is concerned, became one of the nation's vanguard states with full civil marriage equality.