Michael Crawford

"Domestic Partnership" Does Not Equal Marriage

Filed By Michael Crawford | February 01, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: gay marriage, Maine Marriage Equality, marriage equality, marriage vs civil unions

An editorial on marriage in the Portland Press Herald laid out in the clearest language possible why the debate around relationship recognition should about marriage and not just the collection of rights and responsibilities accessed through marriage.

A domestic partnership law is the wrong place to start the discussion. Those who object to the state applying family law norms to same-sex relationships see it as a way to sneak gay marriage into the law books.

Those who support same-sex marriage view it as a less-than-equal legal status that does not carry one of the most important benefits of marriage - its universal recognition.

In a school, hospital or courthouse, everyone understands the family relationship of marriage and the rights that go with it. A new institution with an unfamiliar name would not have the same weight.

We support full marriage rights for same-sex couples because we believe they are entitled to equal protection under the law. Marriage is the best building block for stable, supportive families, and families led by same-sex couples should have same legal rights and obligations as those led by heterosexual couples.

That editorial appeared on January 25, 2009 two weeks after Equality Maine and its partners in the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition unveiled a bill that would extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in Maine. To counteract efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, Republican State Rep. Les Fossel has proposed a domestic partnership bill that he is holding up as a "compromise."

As we have learned again and again in places like California, Connecticut (before marriage was legalized) and New Jersey, creating separate structures like domestic partnerships and civil unions for the recognition of same-sex relationships does not work. By virtue of their being separate categories, they are inherently unequal. And, in their daily lives same-sex couples have experienced the shortcomings of being relegated to separate and unequal legal structures.

Pursuing domestic partnerships legislation is only a pragmatic tactic in places where it clear that marriage will not become a reality anytime soon and only as part of a pragmatic and multi-pronged strategy to provide real benefits for LGBT families while moving towards the goal of marriage equality.

Maine is one of the few places in the country where we can win and keep marriage equality. It is in no way going to be easy and our brothers and sisters in Maine will need the help of all of us in this fight.

This is a fight that can be won. Make a contribution to support the marriage work of Equality Maine now.

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Thanks for a clearlylaid out and reasoned response as to why domestic partnerships are unequal. A new twist i had not thought of before was the universal benefits and recognition of the meaning of marriage.

Warm Regards,


Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | February 1, 2009 12:53 PM

It would be much simpler if we just allow same-sex couples to marry. There would be no need to creating new legal structures etc.

I would add that civil unions lack "full faith and credit." That remains true even with the repeal of DOMA.

I suspect that this issue will be resolved after some Obama appointees serve on the Supreme Court. Unfortunately the Bush I and Bush II ideologues are younger than the more progressive justices.

Well done, Michael. I am very hopeful that Maine will join MA and CT very soon in having full marriage rights.

This link regarding why civil unions don't work is new to me- am going to share this important piece on my Wordpress site, as well as update my Pam's House Blend diary regarding the PPH editorial. Thank you for posting it!

steve tabarez | February 1, 2009 1:31 PM

I agree. The qubble over the parsing of words between marriage and domestic partnership is totally misdirected, and honestly, serving to divide our community. Yet what concerns me most is that i feel what is needed is a big move from segmented/divided fights for our rights: marriage, ability to serve in the armed forces, discriminaton in the workplace for all LGBTQ people, adoption, etc. What I think is needed is a 50 STATE approach of all these different, ALPHABET SOUP, organizations to re-direct time, energy, people, and money, to a collective fight towards WASHINGTON DC, and OBAMA, specifically, our fight for FULL/Complete civil rights under THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT. What transpires now is nothing more than right by right, state by state battles that leads to nothing more than a BLOODLETTING, of time, money, and people, thus leaving us hardly better than the times of Harvey Milk. That is the wrong approach. WE have a democratic president, we have a democratic senat, and house. We should now pressure them to deliver. And if they do not, no MONEY, and nO VOTES!!!!! That means in local, county, state and national elections. REAL ACTIVISM. It does work. We cannot see ourselves as more evolved than those 60's type tactics. For history proves they work. Second, while we claim to be more EVOLVED than that, our rights have not PROGRESSED much at all.

steve tabarez | February 1, 2009 3:42 PM

I'd also like to point out two articles tha can be found at SOVO.COM One where was quite non
-commital on extending full benefits to the partners of LBGT foreign service employees. Not much more than she's going to "study" the issue. Also, an interview with Barney Frank, where he explicitly, and unequivocally, states that any movement on either marriage rights/domestic partnership acts WILL NOT HAPPEN in Obamas first term. Ditto repealing DOMA, OR GETTING ENDA passed. QUITE TELLING PEOPLE!! My earlier comments are bolstered by these don't you think?

http://www.sovo.com/2009/1-30/news/national/9734.cfm - Civil Unions a minefield for Obama

and http://www.sovo.com/thelatest/thelatest.cfm?blog_id=23780 - Clinton meets Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies

steve tabarez | February 1, 2009 5:05 PM

Dropped text was in reference to a mtng. HILLARY CLINTON with foreign service workers regarding their petition for benefits for LGBT PARTNERS. She was not enthusiastic.

I'm a little surprised that an Obama supporter like Michael would be 'for' same sex marriage at all since Obama is so openly bigoted about it. It just seems a bit self-defeating.

Obama, like most Democrats, is a pigheaded opponent of same sex marriage. It hardly makes a difference whether he’s against us so that he can pander to bigots, which is absolutely true, or because he thinks the Big Porker in the Sty in the Sky wants him to be a bigot. Like most Democrats Obama is for civil unions and second class citizenship for us. His bigotry about same sex marriage is so strident and unmistakable that is was used by Warren, the mormons and the catholic hierarchy to defeat us in California.

The way to get same sex marriage rights is to build an independent LGBT left to defeat the bigots in both parties using a militant mass action perspective. We have to compel them to give us equality. Working inside the Democrat (sic) party is a lot like sticking your foot in mouth and simultaneously shooting yourself in the foot. If it doesn’t kill you it certainly does slow you down.

The President of the United States cannot effect same-sex marriage. Furthermore, we lack sufficient votes in the Senate to get anything passed.

This issue will be resolved in the courts. Ultimately, Obama can change the balance in the Supreme Court and this is our best shot.

While I agree that Obama's position has been a bit ambiguous, the reality is that we are relegated to a choice of the lesser of two evils at the ballot for the foreseeable future.

As a Jew, I am one of just 2.5% of the population. As a queer, it's about twice that percentage. Jews are far more politically influential, For that matter, a relative handful of Cuban-Americans has more sway that the GLBT community. The difference is organization and money. We need to get something like GayPac going AND we need much better organization. We certainly have no shortage of talent.

HRC has been ineffective and Equality California is an absolute disaster. We put up with it. As a quality-management consultant, a quality result requires constancy of purpose and a quality process. What I have seen with respect to Prop 8 depicts horrendous inconsistency and a lack of process - let alone one that is quality driven. Nobody was accountable for anything.

DanaRSullivan | February 2, 2009 3:08 PM

"Pursuing domestic partnerships legislation is only a pragmatic tactic in places where it clear that marriage will not become a reality anytime soon and only as part of a pragmatic and multi-pronged strategy to provide real benefits for LGBT families while moving towards the goal of marriage equality."

I like this a lot. Usually I hear either that we should never settle for civil unions because they're unequal (which they are), or that we should always settle for them, permanently, because the only thing that matters is the legal rights and it's theoretically possible to get them that way while avoiding some of the wrath of the religious right. Framing it like this makes much more sense.