Christie, Civil Unions, and the Direct Democracy Fallacy (It Didn’t Work for Women’s Suffrage, Either)
It’s all here! At the New Civil Rights Movement, a few hours ago.
It’s all here! At the New Civil Rights Movement, a few hours ago.
I was just plain delighted to have been invited to participate in one of the “Room for Debate” forums with the New York Times. The question we were asked to address:
“If more couples considered monogamy optional, would divorce and cheating be less common, and unmarried cohabitation less attractive?”
Here’s a link to the front page; here, you can find my individual entry, which looks at alternative forms of relationship recognition (such as civil unions) as a way to refresh the debate about expectations within relationships. But the whole debate is fascinating.
Before anyone could blink, civil unions became law in Delaware last night, when Gov. Jack Markell took to the stage at the Queen Theater (insert own joke) in Wilmington, and — after suitable fanfare, comments, and song — signed the bill. I was there, along with about 600 others (or, roughly, most of the state’s population) for the party.
Here’s a picture of the Governor signing the law. His wife is the one in the sort of cool purple dress who’s bathing in angelic light. You can make out Equality Delaware’s Lisa Goodman (a Widener law alum, I’m proud to state) over on the left, behind the podium. She thanked basically every man, woman, and child in Delaware for their role in steering the bill through. The stage was crowded with legislators, singers, and — at the end — lots of the kids of the lesbian and gay-headed families who would soon be benefiting from this law.
I debated whether to attend. I don’t even live in Delaware, and — as I never tire of emphasizing — civil unions aren’t real equality, but a purposefully bestowed second-class citizenship. Indeed, there were times during the governor’s otherwise eloquent speech about freedom, liberty, and equality where I found myself saying: “Well, not exactly.”
Mostly, though, I managed to keep those thoughts at bay. The event was so joyous, so celebratory, that I put away my reservations — for a limited time only.
Two other observations:
First, Delaware really is small. I’ve made a (cheap) practice of ridiculing the size and insularity of the place (see above), but last night showed the upside. In a place where everyone knows everyone else, and where you really do have access to your legislators, it’s just harder to look your neighbor in the face and say: “I don’t care about you and your family.” And Delawarans didn’t: The bill passed easily.
Second, whatever its shortcomings, a civil union bill can make a real and practical difference in people’s lives. I was lucky enough to be standing near the stage and right next to a lesbian couple and their two kids. They’ve been foster-parenting for almost a year, and by now they should have been able to adopt their kids — except the judge who has control of the case wouldn’t let them. So they’ve been in foster-parent limbo (I’ve been exactly there).
Here they are, on the left, in the purple shirts that were created for the adoption but have been on ice because of the judge’s obstinacy.
Not anymore. Now the judge will have no choice but to recognize in law what anyone with a brain and a heart knows to be the case: This is a family. To paraphrase Gov. Markell, as he looked out over the sea of kids in attendance, parents are the ones who live as such: who are with the kids when they’re sick, who get them through the hard times, and so on. Looking at these happy kids, whose families now have validation in law, he said: “These.are.your.parents.”
It’s the civil union for opposite-sex couples. Will it catch on? And what does it say about the relationship between marriage and civil unions, and about the meaning of marriage more generally?
Today’s column at 365gay explores these and related issues.
As readers of this site might not know, Maggie Gallagher directly responded to my post from last week’s 365gay.column. In a (mostly) respectful tone, she clarified — seemingly for the first time — her views on civil unions. In principle, she favors them but worries they’ll lead to full marriage equality. And opposing that outcome is her professional raison d’etre.
In this week’s column, I use her post as a springboard to discuss the oral argument in the Prop 8 case, and to agree with Maggie — civil unions do and will lead to full marriage equality. But we differ, of course, on whether that is a good or bad thing.
The Illinois House just passed a civil union bill. As has become the rule with such legislation, this statute will provide gay and lesbian couples with all of the state-conferred rights, privileges, and obligations of marriage — but without the name. It’s widely expected to pass the Senate and then to be signed by Gov. Quinn.
Adding those states (and D.C.) that have full marriage equality, those that recognize same-sex marriages from other states (Maryland and New York) and those that confer the benefits of marriage without the name — civil unions or one version of domestic partnerships (as in California) — we are now well into the double digits. And more victories are likely, and soon, in several states (Rhode Island, Hawaii, and possibly New York).
The civil union, as I’ve written, is ultimately an unacceptable substitute for marriage. But with each state that creates them, the pressure on the whole federalist system for a comprehensive solution grows. Yes, that solution could be the civil union compromise. But I doubt it. By the time the glacial Congress is ready to repeal DOMA, marriage — not its poor relation — will be the answer. And it will be so obvious that most will already be looking back at this controversy and shaking their heads.
In this week’s column at 365gay.com, I address the issue whether civil unions should be considered a serviceable political compromise for the time being, while we await full marriage equality. As you might expect, lots of comments have come in already.
But I wanted to share a very different sort of comment; one that you wouldn’t often see on that site because it’s so negative. Here’s the text of an email I received today; you should read the 365 post first for context, although I think he fairly (not selectively) quotes me. I’ve highlighted my language from the column for ease of reference:
Regarding the article, “Culhane: Should we hate civil unions, or love them?“, I have a few thoughts.
Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle stated she took longer to decide this issue of ‘Civil Unions vs. Marriage’ than any other brought before her.And that she had decided to veto the civil union bill after much deliberation.
“With her body blocking the state seal – with its (loosely translated) motto of “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” and its depiction of the Goddess of Liberty – Lingle issued the by-now boilerplate blather about letting the people, rather than the legislature, decide. It’s as though she’d just been transported to a place where the rules of representative democracy had been suspended”
The whole of the statement you made, as seen above, reeks with biased slander and a hint of self aggrandizement. Is “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness” the translation of “Ua Mau Ke Ea O Oka Aina I Ka Pono” or not? If it is, and it is according to some those local boys I’ve known for years, your veracity has come under scrutiny.
Now, this “…boilerplate blather about letting the people, rather than the legislature, decide…” is the Governor simply doing her job in a representative democracy. So, what are you trying to say here…..we must leave the state legislature to do their job fulfilling their responcibilities under a representative democracy but, as Governor, she must kowtow to the wishes of the State Legislature!?! Surely you’re not trying to tell us that the Governor isn’t the representative voice of all the States population!?! Her job would be, as the State voice under a representative democracy, to consider what we the people want as a whole. Doesn’t this make sense to you at all?
But I want to focus on something the governor said during her press conference: Civil unions are marriage ‘by another name.” Since she opposes same-sex marriages (she didn’t say why), she also opposes civil unions.
“Civil unions are marriage ‘by another name.” There is no need to redefine the word marriage and a definite need to distinguish between a ‘civil union’ and a ‘marriage’. You may think there is some kind of underlying ill-will towards gays or perhaps some kind of homophobia in play. But the fact is you couldn’t be farther from the truth.
It has become apparent that there is an agenda being pushed upon the majority of the population of America and it is happening on the State level. Here is where the push began…when those who call themselves gay wanted what married people have…and I’m not talking about all the financial and other benefits that go along with being legally married. The simple truth is, and I’ve had enough gay friends to know, they want the title of marriage because they see their relationships as the same as those who are married. But they’re not! I’ve seen more gay sexual addicts than I’d care to shake a stick at….it’s like the ‘lust rheostat’ is turned on high and stuck there. It’s all about being “Out”…about being “In Your Face”…about “Being Gay and Proud Of It”. And most of all, it’s about bringing down the established white christian morals that have stifled this country for so long.So, you might want to start writing the truth.
“So how can it mean the same thing as marriage? Lingle might be right to say that civil unions are marriage “by another name,” but names have weight. The word “marriage” is particularly totemic, as we can emphasize by this table-turning little experiment: Imagine a suggestion that same-sex couples’ unions be called marriages, but that opposite-sex couples would be granted the right to enter into civil unions. Would anyone then really want to suggest that the name wasn’t terribly important?”
You’ve gt to be kidding? I would be willing to bet almost anything that, if the tables were turned, it wouldn’t be such a big deal! But, of course, we’ll never know will we! So, this little point is irrelevant!
Perhaps nowhere was the importance of this distinction better understood and deconstructed than by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Writing in response to the question whether the legislature might carry out the court’s mandate of conferring marriage equality on same-sex couples by creating the civil union, the court said this of the proposed bill:
[I]t is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status. The denomination of this difference…as merely a “squabble over the name to be used” so clearly misses the point that further discussion appears to be useless.
Are you cherry-picking bits of information and wording it in such a way as to reflect you will and desires? This is what I found:
“In a 50-page, 4–3 ruling delivered on November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that the state may not “deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by “civil marriage” to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.” Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, writing for the majority, wrote that the state’s constitution “affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens,” the state had no “constitutionally adequate reason for denying marriage to same-sex couples,” and “The right to marry is not a privilege conferred by the State, but a fundamental right that is protected against unwarranted State interference.” On the legal aspect, instead of creating a new fundamental right to marry, or more accurately the right to choose to marry, the Court held that the State does not have a rational basis to deny same-sex couples marriage on the ground of due process and equal protection. (the court gave the State Legislature 180 days to change the law to rectify the situation)
She said “It forbids the creation of second-class citizens….”! Big difference, wouldn’t you say!?!
I must say, Mr. John Culhane, Professor of Law, Widener University, I would not want to be a student sitting in your class where I’d be fed an assortment of lies served up by a biased, or should I say prejudice, bigot!
Well, I know I would need a thick skin when I embarked on a life of blogging. This is the kind of thing you get. Most of what “jim” said is, I think, self-refuting, and I want to turn to reading and then analyzing the DOMA decisions that came down this evening, so I’m not going to get into it in detail. Just a very few quick points:
(1) There was Goodridge, which jim summarizes, and then there was the Opinion of the Justices in response to a question presented by the state senate. The latter is what I was quoting.
(2) There are plenty of sex addicts — men, women, straight and gay. No one suggests that the presence of sex addicts in the heterosexual population should lead society to ban their marriages, so why is it different for gay couples? Note the implicit homophobia in the attempted demonization of gay men (what about lesbians, by the way?) while ignoring similar, heterosexual impulses.
(3) jim claims to have gay friends. If so, I hope he’s open enough with them to share this email. If he does, he could learn something through their responses — if they’re not so pissed they simply walk out on him.
Look for my analysis of the DOMA cases later tonight, or tomorrow morning.
A reader and old friend writes:
Linda Lingle has failed in so many ways, my head is still spinning. When she voiced her commitment to protecting the sanctity of marriage, she failed to mention her 2 divorces. She failed to fulfill her 2006 campaign promise to not veto legislation on same sex marriage. She failed as an executive, unable to decide based on her own principles or the arguments of proponents and opponents. She failed to see the consequences of not deciding on this issue. She condemned representative democracy and suggested governance by referendum (or legalized “mob rule” in my view), making herself redundant. If the governor should not make a decision on this issue, why should she on any issue? In so doing, she confirms her failure as a student of history. Her former place of residence, California, is virtually a failed state due to the limitations that ballot initiatives have imposed on its governments and its citizens.
Don’t overlook the fact that the Hawaii legislation permits “civil unions”, not civil marriage. Separate but equal is unacceptable when based on race; it is equally unacceptable based on gender or sexual orientation. We are being worn down arguing with the insane and unreasonable. We should not lose sight of the notion that we are looking for equality not something like equality. Accepting something less in one state (Hawaii’s civil union) poses a threat to legal same sex marriage in other states. It is a constant reminder that something less is okay.
It’s weird. I’m sitting here looking at the seal of Hawaii, soon to be occluded by the Governor, Linda Lingle, who’s set to make her announcement. I guess this is a live blog….
That seal translates into English, roughly, as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” And one of the two figures on the seal is the Goddess of Liberty. Let’s see whether the governor’s physical blocking of the seal also represents a symbolic obliteration of the lives of her LGBT citizens.
We’ve just heard that she’s to appear in “a minute or two,” followed by the now-ritual plea to silence phones. The only other sound has been a persistent cough.
Here she comes, greeting the media with an “Aloha.” She’s invited representatives on both sides of the bill. Now she’s asking people not to react until she’s done. Enough, already….What’s her decision?
Now she’s thanking everyone.
She’s vetoing the bill. It’s a good thing, it turns out, that we can’t see the seal or the Goddess of Liberty.
She has been “open and consistent” in her opposition to same-sex marriage, and this is the same thing by another name.
She’s become “convinced that this issue is of such societal importance that it deserves to be decided by all the people of Hawaii.”
So much for representative government. There are some issues that call for direct democracy, she says (without specifying which ones, or how that’s decided, or why people get to vote on others’ rights) and now she’s blaming the legislature for its maneuvering — maneuvering, by the way, that’s common. Now she’s criticizing the Democrats, as though she’s not signed bills passed by similar maneuvering in the past. This is just a diversion from the reasons for her decision, as she all but admits later (during Q and A). (I’m now editing this post.)
Now she’s blathering on about how deeply people of all ages and beliefs feel about the issue. A “big island” man had moved her by his story telling him about coming out to his traditional family, but was similarly moved by a mother who was concerned about her kids learning about same-sex couples and how they’re the same as opposite-sex couples.
Definition of marriage — we’re all invested, not just same-sex couples. Well, that’s true, but she doesn’t stop to consider the disparate impact on the two groups.
This should be decided “behind the curtain of the voting booth” — in other words, in complete and safe anonymity. This is the dignified approach. Dignity? Give me a fucking break. Would she be saying this about interracial marriage? That we should respect people’s rights to vote on others’ civil rights? But she doesn’t see this as a civil rights issue, obviously.
And then she has the nerve to talk about the “honor” of the political process.
She made her decision about a week ago, and had gone back and forth because of the strength of the arguments on the pro side. But they’re not arguments she bought.
Aren’t you just passing the buck? You’re supposed to make difficult decisions and not pass it along to the voters.
Unanswerable, really. More boilerplate about the will of the voters.
Will this define your term as governor?
It will be the most discussed, but then ticked off a list of her accomplishments.
I really don’t want to listen to the rest of this, beyond noting that she’s again passing the buck. She says she respects the same-sex couples who came before her, but ultimately that’s just not true.
Yes, I was wrong in my prediction of earlier today. But that’s because I thought that Lingle would understand that the feelings of those directly affected would matter more than the sentiments of those worried about some possible discussion they’d have to have with their kids — discussions they should already be having, given the reality of same-sex couples and their families.
History will judge her harshly, as it should.
One last note: She predicts that the civil union issue will end up on the ballot. Maybe that’s right, and if so, maybe the electorate will do the right thing. But we shouldn’t need that to happen. It’s a shame the simple power of equality held no sway over this governor. May her final days in office be tortured by doubt.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle must decide today whether to sign the civil unions bill enacted by the legislature at the end of April. (Hawaii time is six hours behind EDT, so it’s only 10:30 am there right now). After wrestling with the issue for more than two months now, this is it: under state law, today’s the last day for her decision. Here‘s a quote from yesterday that makes me optimistic:
“I really thought about this more than I thought about any other piece of legislation and any other issue that’s faced society,” said Gov. Lingle. “I don’t know the exact number but I think it’s running 60-40 against but as I’m going to talk about tomorrow — that isn’t what helped me to make a decision on this it was really the depth of feeling on both sides — so I look forward to sharing that with everybody tomorrow.”
Why optimistic? It seems to me that the effect — and by extension, the depth of feeling — would be greater on the side of those directly affected than by those whose lives will be at most peripherally affected, by her decision. And the civil union offers a compromise that a governor — especially one about to leave office — can and should have the courage to offer. This moderate Republican, in a dark blue state, might be a bellwether for her party on this issue of fundamental fairness. But don’t count on that, given the dismal state of the GOP these days.