Archive

Archive for the ‘civil unions’ Category

Civil Unions Coming to Hawaii?

January 25th, 2010 No comments

Supporters of the civil unions bills celebrate by clapping and cheering, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 in Honolulu. The Hawaii Senate approved same-sex civil unions Friday, potentially setting up the measure for final passage as soon as next week. The Senate passed the bill on an 18-7 vote, moving it to the House and signaling that the Senate's Democratic majority has enoughvotes to override a possible veto from Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. (AP Photo/The Honolulu Advertiser, Gregory Yamamoto)

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court seemed on the verge of bringing marriage equality to the state. In Baehr v. Lewin, the court held that the ban on gay marriages was a form of sex discrimination, and that the state therefore bore a heavy burden of justification. The case was sent back to the lower court for a determination of that question. With the rules of engagement set, the lower court found in favor of the gay couples seeking marriage licenses. The case went back to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which seemed poised to agree. Things looked great for marriage equality, until…

The Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (signed by Clinton, remember), and the Hawaii voters swamped the courts by amending their state’s constitution to permit the denial of marriage equality. The compromise was the oafishly named “reciprocal beneficiary” (a name that has never again been spoken by any other state), an entity that confers a puny subset of the benefits granted to married couples. Now, all these years later, the legislature is poised to go the all-but-marriage route that has quietly gathered momentum over the last year.

The State Senate has just passed the civil union bill by a veto-proof majority. The State House of Representatives is apparently on the cusp of having enough votes to do the same; whether they’ll take up the bill is unclear. The legislator must think they need a veto-proof majority, as the twice-divorced Governor, Linda Lingle, has taken this courageous position:

“Asked what she thought about the issue of civil unions or gay marriage, Lingle said: ‘My thought is they should not discuss it. I don’t want to discuss it. I want to discuss job creation.'”

Well, governor, they are discussing it. What are you going to do if it lands on your desk? Once you sign it, it’s over and you can get back to job creation. If you don’t, it’s back to the legislature to see whether they’ll override your veto. Which would be more distracting? And how would you justify denying benefits to gay couples with children while arguing for benefits for straight couples, like yourself (well, at least at a couple of times in your past) without kids? Just asking.

Sorry for the high snark quotient. I’m just tired of these disingenuous arguments.

Reading the Maine Marriage Equality Setback

November 4th, 2009 No comments

Let’s face it; this loss in Maine is tough to swallow. Here’s a comment from a despondent reader:

I know after some rest I’ll even out and get back to the business of living, but right now I feel very done with the ballot box, and donating, and phone-banking, and talking myself blue in the face, etc. I honestly don’t feel its proper to submit the rights of a minority to a popular vote and I’m not up for any further indignities at this time. I’m sure I’ll come around and get on with it like everyone else, but right now … I don’t know.

It’s easy to feel this way, especially after the heady victories over the past year throughout New England and in Iowa. There’s a brick wall that still hasn’t been battered down: When voters have been asked to weigh in on marriage equality, they consistently vote against us. We’d likely win in a state like Vermont, and maybe in a few other places, but we’re not there yet in most places — even, as we saw, in California or Maine. Nor is the Maine story as “spinnable” in our favor as the California narrative, because this time the equality forces outspent their opponents, and did the very kind of door-to-door campaigning that was supposed to result in victory. It’s tempting to join the reader’s pessimistic appraisal, and ask:  “What’s left to try”?

It’s fair enough to feel that way on the day after such a devastating loss. But two things seem worth saying. First, we should acknowledge that there is indeed something wrong with putting minority rights up to a vote by the majority. But of course the constitutional or, in Maine, referendum, process in many states allows just this sort of result. Judicial challenges, as we’ve seen, are risky, too. One day (not soon) the U.S. Supreme Court may put an end to this state-by-state denial of basic equality, but for now, we’re stuck with the political process. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, as it forces us (or should) to continue to engage our neighbors about our lives, and their value.

Second, we’re pushing closer and closer to that 50% threshold. It seems right now that we’re in the 47-48% range in more socially progressive states, so we’ve not far to go. And when the (in this sense) toxic word “marriage” is taken out of the equation, we’ve now cleared that majority hurdle: It looks as though the Washington full domestic partnership ordinance will stand. This result mirrors national polls, which now consistently show a majority in favor of at least marriage-in-all but name status for same-sex couples. It’s literally the word “marriage” — and its manifold, deeply embedded religious and cultural significance for many (including same-sex couples, of course) — that keeps the wall standing.

But let’s keep this in mind: In 2009, we’re already there, in many places, on equality in all-but-name. In a few states, we’ve even crossed the barrier on marriage. In several others, we’re close. Now think about where we were a decade ago. From that perspective, our progress has been nothing short of astonishing.

As a father with two young kids, I’m determined that they grow up in a place where their family is valued. As a citizen married in all but law to my spouse, I demand equality. Nothing else will, or should, placate us. I still believe — I still know — that we will get there, and soon.

A Conversation with Alex Nicholson

May 19th, 2009 No comments

Here’s something to think about:

Getting married, or civilly united, as a same-sex couple can get you discharged under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. As the New Jersey Civil Union Commission Report pointed out, declaring that you’re in a civil union is actually “worse” (read: more hazardous) than saying “I Got Married!” — since civil unions are limited to same-sex couples, that simple speech act will do you in. You might be able to get away with saying you’re married, at least until someone asks you “to whom” (and you dare to answer truthfully) or until someone finds out that you’re “gay married.”

At least these acts of commitment are solid evidence that one has a same-sex orientation. Contra the reading of Anne Rice novels, or the possession of art that’s seen as “too lesbian”; these have also passed for “evidence” in the administrative hearings that often lead to discharge for “violation” of this policy.

This last bit of information came courtesy of Alex Nicholson, former Army (multi) lingual “human intelligence collector” discharged under the policy when another soldier discovered his “gay” letter — written in Portugese. He’s the founder and Executive Director of Servicemembers United (“SU”), the primary mission of which is to advocate for the repeal of the DADT policy.

Among the “human intelligence” Nicholson was able to collect surely would not have been a justification for the DADT policy; in fact, there’s not a shred of evidence in support of it. No, this document from former officers no longer serving isn’t evidence; worse, the embedded “Issues Overview” is a distressing hash of homophobic arguments that I’ll address in an upcoming post. For now I’ll just mention that the world is changing more quickly than some retired soldiers know or want to acknowledge. As explained here, that other bastion of presumed heterosexuality, the Greek fraternity/sorority system, has also undergone rapid transformation. (The writer describes her experience at the College of William and Mary, which I also attended. When I was there, in the 1970s, we were all living under “don’t ask, don’t tell. That doesn’t mean there were no same-sex acts. In fact, one of the fraternities had a reputation as being the one to join if you were so disposed! Is this a digression? Not really; a socially enforced (then), or legally required (now, under DADT) invisibility doesn’t “solve” “the gay problem”; it simply drives it underground.)

I recently had a long sit-down with Alex Nicholson, whom I’d briefly met a couple of weeks ago at the Equality Forum event for which I was blogging. Between an appearance on National Public Radio, a screening of the documentary “Ask Not” (which features him among others; see it June 16 on PBS) and a likely appearance on Campbell Brown’s CNN show, he graciously spent a couple of hours with me discussing all manner of things; some related to his organization and its mission, some about his life and background, and some general chitchat (a mutual specialty, it seems).

Alex grew up an only child in South Carolina, the son of a military dad, and left college after one year to join the Army. I asked the obvious question: “Did you know you were gay then?” Yes, he did. Well, then, why on earth join the military? His answer should have been unsurprising: “It was a non-issue in my head.” He knew of the policy, but wasn’t educated about it and somehow didn’t think it would be much of a problem. He might have been right, even though it didn’t turn out that way. The DADT policy is unclear, and randomly enforced. Some can go years with many fellow soldiers knowing they’re gay, while others are pushed out quickly. This inconsistency itself is enough to alert reasonable people that the policy ain’t right.

Alex Nicholson and his colleagues at Servicemembers United are doing something about it. When he founded the organization three years ago,  he followed the “do it yourself” model that seems to be the signature talent of millenials. Without funding,  SU established a website toehold, and then leveraged its influence through a series of ad hoc projects and initiatives co-sponsored by different, better established organizations. For example, SU created “the 12000 Flags for 12000 Patriots” campaign and then invited participation from the Human Rights Campaign, the (evil) Log Cabin Republicans, and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “12,000 Flags” marked the shameful fact that 12,000 able servicemen and servicewomen had been discharged within fourteen years of the enactment of DADT. Here’s Alex, speaking at the event:

SU work is more of a calling than a job. Alex and his partner, co-founder Jarrod Chlapowski, work well into the night — for no pay! (There is no paid staff, still.)  It seems as though their work is starting to claw its way into the collective consciousness. The issue is everywhere, lately, and Presidential press conferences and briefings continue to feature awkward circumlocutions on when and how DADT will finally be given an indecent burial. (Jon Stewart is predictably devastating on the issue here; points out absurdity of our different policies on torture, release of torture videos, and DADT). In the midst of this, Alex Nicholson continues to work on his Ph.D. dissertation in Political Science for the University of South Carolina. The topic is one you might have expected to interest him: How people move from passive to active support of social movements, with emphasis on the involvement of non-affected supporters (e.g., men for feminism, straights for gay rights).1

So, does he want to become a professor? He’d much rather…rejoin the military. He hopes to attend law school, preferably in D.C., where he’s now located, and then join the JAG Corps.  After our long and interesting conversation, I somehow didn’t find this surprising at all. SU exists because Alex Nicholson and others have not given up on an organization that, even now, would rather not acknowledge their existence. That’s persistence.

  1. I’d say that everyone is affected by whatever happens to everyone else, but I understand the point to be about direct effects.

Andrew Sullivan’s “Familiar Feeling” — and a Qualified Defense of Obama

May 14th, 2009 No comments

Well, we’re not even four months into the Obama Administration and already the LGBT community is frustrated at the pace of developments. And, really, who can blame us, after the betrayals of the Clinton Administration and the hostility of his successor who-must-not-be-named? Here’s Andrew Sullivan, in a sobering and angry piece on the Atlantic website (“The Fierce Urgency of Whenever”):

“I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.

“Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

“And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We’re firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won’t recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they’re, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There’s a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know.”

Steve Sanders over at Sexual Orientation and the Law Blog expands on the point, noting that some of the things Obama’s promised to do might be accomplished without legislative action; arguably, he already has the executive authority to stop the discharges under the completely indefensible “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

These points are fair, and we’re right to be concerned about both the pace of change and, perhaps as important, the weakening or outright disappearance of rhetorical commitment on central issues, such as federal civil unions; the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; and the repeal of  DADT. But the story isn’t this simple.

Sullivan himself is of two minds on this, as are many of us. He prefaces the eviscerating remarks quoted above with the following:

“[I]t’s tedious to whine and jump up and down and complain when a wand isn’t waved and everything is made right by the first candidate who really seemed to get it, who was even able to address black church congregations about homophobia. And obviously patience is necessary; and legislative work takes time; and there are real challenges on so many fronts….No one expects a president to be grappling with all this early on, or, God help us, actually leading on civil rights. That’s our job, not his.”

So, where are we and how concerned should we be?

Let me start with Sullivan’s “familiar feeling.” I’m less concerned than he is (of course, I’m not about to get kicked out of the country, either), principally because Clinton and Obama are so different, tempermentally. Clinton, for all of his obvious intelligence, was in many ways an incautious, borderline reckless, man: “I’ll just issue an order allowing gays into the military. What could be hard about that?” Obama’s endlessly analyzed personality is that of the careful incrementalist, who listens to all parties, decides on a course of action (and sometimes reconsiders his position, as with yesterday’s about-face on the release of prisoner abuse photos), and then works patiently and tirelessly for consensus. Anyone who could herd the divas on the Harvard Law Review has some accomplishment to commend his approach.

So what looks the same from one perspective — the lack of progress on gays in the military — may be quite different in underlying significance. We don’t know what Obama is doing (or thinking) behind the scenes, but I’m willing to bet it’s…something.

Not exactly reassuring, is it? I don’t have any way of verifying my suspicion on this issue, and I might be totally off. (I really hope not. DADT is just nuts; made even more so now that same-sex couples can marry or civilly unite. That legal act is now a ground for discharge under the policy. My next post will be of a conversation I had with the unceremoniously brilliant Alex Nicholson, the founder of an organization dedicated to repealing the policy, Service Members United.)

But there is movement. Let’s put this into context. For approximately forever, the only traction gay issues had at the federal level had been as a wedge issue — against us. I’m talking about DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act, not to mention the Federal Marriage Amendment (which never had a chance of passage but was conveniently unsheathed whenever an election loomed), and of course the epidemiologically and ethically indefensible ban on HIV-positive immigrants.

Now we have a gay-inclusive hate crimes bill set to pass and be enacted into law, likely quite soon. (I don’t agree that this is entirely symbolic; but even if it were, symbols matter). “Sources” tell me that there is a place on the legislative agenda this year for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Whether it will be trans-inclusive is less certain, but vital: Who most needs this protection? Not me.) ENDA has been around since, if I’m remembering correctly, the Truman Administration. Neither Sullivan nor Sanders discusses this issue, on which progress looks quite likely.

Meanwhile, lifting of the HIV ban is moving along — albeit at the glacial pace of the federal regulatory process. Again, Sullivan (first quoting):

“’The Department of Health and Human Services has submitted for OMB review a notice of proposed rule-making to implement this change.’

“Translation: we’re doing the bare minimum to make us look no worse than Bush, but we have no real interest in this and are letting the bureaucracy handle it, and we guarantee nothing.”

I think that’s too critical. HHS Secretary Sebelius acted within one week of her confirmation to get this long-overdue repeal moving through the process. As this site reports, the bureaucrats are following standard procedure here, needed to put into practical effect the legislative repeal (changing the law meant that HIV was no longer required to be on the list of excludable diseases; now it must be removed).

Imagine it’s the end of 2009: The hate crimes bill is law, so is ENDA, and the HIV repeal is lifted (in time for Sullivan, I sincerely hope; but as he points out, there are many others for whom the ban leaves fewer, or no, options). DADT continues to be assaulted, relentlessly, from many perspectives, but is still in place. Civil unions, flowering all over the country, lie beneath still-frozen soil in D.C.

Would we regard this record as one of success? Let’s see if we get there, first. And let’s continue the relentless advocacy that is finally, I believe and dare to hope, beginning to push on the hinge of history.

Equality Forum: The International Equality Dinner Starring the One and Only Gavin Newsom

May 3rd, 2009 No comments

Talk about your gala events! 

Well, for $200 a plate, Saturday night’s International Equality Dinner needed to be a fabulous, star-studded affair, and it was. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a true ally of the gay and lesbian community since forever, was Honorary Chair and delivered his usually warm, amusing, and affirming speech. With no elections left to contest, Rendell was even more forthright than usual — and that’s something. But no one wants to talk about him, or even about The New York Times Company, winner of Equality Forum’s 7th Annual Business Leadership Award. This is an honor the Times richly deserves for: its fair and extensive coverage of our issues; its pioneering inclusion of same-sex unions on its “Weddings” pages several years ago; and the stalwart support of the LGBT community from such columnists as the Pulitzer-Prize winning Maureen Dowd and the known homophile Frank Rich. (Read this, if you haven’t already.)

The dinner also featured an open bar, great food (how, with so many people?), impressive videos by and about EF, and a huge and friendly crowd. But these aren’t the story, either.

No, it’s all about San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a true rock star of the LGBT movement. You could have heard a mozzarella ball drop during Mr. Charisma’s inspiring keynote address. But first let’s back up twenty-four hours.

On Friday night, I attended a screening of Pursuit of Equality, a documentary that focuses on Newsom and the “marriage month” that took place, by his direction, in San Francisco in early 2004. The film, produced and co-directed by Geoff Callan, Newsom’s brother-in-law, can be criticized as hagiography, but it captures and holds for posterity the vertiginous emotional journey of all involved: the mayor and his committed staff; the Repent America joes who camped out at City Hall in protest at what was going on; and, of course, the couples who traveled from (as the Mayor is liable to repeat) forty-eight states to become the first same-sex couples to marry, only to have their unions voided by the California Supreme Court.1

The film reminded me of the inspiration for Newsom’s act of civil disobedience (the best label for it, really). Just after taking office, he’d been invited by fellow Californian and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to attend the 2004 State of the Union address. The now (mercifully) Ex-President cooked up a stew of inane “priority items”: steroid use in baseball (I can’t make this up); the need for abstinence-only education; and, critically, the imagined urgency of passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage unions.

This wasn’t the America Newsom wanted any part of. In my interview with him, he credited his Catholic school education for implanting in him the simple dictum that couldn’t abide this divisiveness: “When one suffers, we all suffer.” Almost immediately upon his return from D.C., he asked his clerks what it would take to change the form to accommodate same-gender couples, and it was, well, almost nothing. (Are you reading this, Social Security Administration?) By then in office for just more than a month, Newsom allowed the Gay Marriage Parade to begin; the Grand Marshals were Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, lesbian pioneers who’d been together more than fifty years. (The film captures Lyon’s terrific sense of humor; when given the standard counseling for newlyweds about family planning, the septuagenarian doubles over laughing.)

Within a few days, San Francisco was mecca for many long-term, committed gay couples. By homing in on a few couples, the filmmakers capture their sheer joy and disbelief at the dignity they’ve just been able to seize. Of course, that joy turned “to bitterest wormwood” (to quote the Mighty Thor) when the California Supreme Court put a stop to the party about a month later. In a strange and unsettling sequence, the film captures a lesbian couple running down the hall in a doomed effort to get their marriage licenses before word of the order reached the clerk. Confronted with a sign telling them they were too late, they performed the remarkable act of remaining in line and being denied. Other couples are seen reading the court’s decision, having it sink it, and — losing it.

Watching these emotional flame-outs, I felt compelled to ask the mayor on Saturday whether these reactions — which one can understand only so deeply, if not directly affected — had made him question his strategy. After all, he knew the likely outcome of this bold Experiment in Equality. Newsom, as articulate and comfortable a speaker as it’s possible to find, answered by sharing his view of the affirming side of it: “People left City Hall with a deeper sense of self and purpose. For that moment, they knew what it felt to be treated with dignity.”

Then I asked Newsom whether he felt he’d done enough to let people know what might happen. “I think people came in with their eyes wide open. They recognized that they were challenging the law, and were there to make a statement, to advance a principle.” He added that he hadn’t received a single email or letter from people saying “How dare you?”

I was using my few questions to gain some measure of Mayor Newsom’s depth and understanding of the issue’s layers, and I came away from the interview and the speech that followed convinced that he really does “get it.”

“Activist courts”? He wants more of ‘em, basically. Imagine what would  have happened in 1967 had we allowed a popular vote on interracial marriage. 70% of the population was opposed to it. The history of civil rights, he noted, is “hardly the majority celebrating the minority. No. Courts protect the minority in a constitutional democracy.”

In case you’re sighing impatiently at this elementary civics lesson, it’s worth remembering that equality opponents don’t acknowledge these points when it comes to this issue.

What about civil unions as some kind of compromise that might appeal to a politician with good instincts but a healthy sense of self-preservation (even more so in 2004)? After all, Newsom is now running for Governor of California. If anything, his view of this “virtual equality” substitute is more contemptuous than his take on those who oppose any and all gay rights. At least the latter group is consistent. Civil unions are “separate but equal.” He is unimpressed by events commemorating the 55th anniversary of  Brown v. Board of Education, where speakers “wax eloquent” about equality and the overdue  demise of  the “separate but equal” doctrine, only to embrace that same expedient when marriage equality is the issue.

Newsom, a “fifth generation Californian”  is impatient with his home state on this issue. “I never thought I’d say this,” he concluded, but “as Iowa goes, so goes the nation.”

  1. Many of these couples remarried after the California Supreme Court declared the law banning same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Will their marriages again be voided? I very much doubt it, but we’ll know within a few weeks.

Equality Forum Day 3 (Part 2): It’s Always Personal

April 30th, 2009 1 comment

Family Law is an exciting yet weird course to teach. The law school model (now admittedly under both siege and reconstruction) emphasizes legal reasoning and analysis, the parsing of cases and statutes, and the occasional foray into broader constitutional issues. Of course, very few legal scholars or students today think that a legal result can be fully explained by logical analysis, but we continue — in most courses, anyway — to mostly pretend otherwise in order to get some actual material covered. This polite fiction kind of falls apart in Family Law. Students can’t refrain from talking about their divorced parents (or their own divorces), the annulment that wiped out a student’s parents twenty-year marriage, their extended families, their own adoptions, etc. And at least one professor (me) is complicit, peppering the discussion with examples drawn from people I know, as well as from celebrities. Why? Because it’s interesting stuff. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a pre-nuptial agreement that increases her “take” if he’s adulterous; Madonna has trouble adopting a Malawi kid despite her international clout; and Britney Spears (remember her?) marries and immediately “takes it back” in Vegas. Try matching that, “Sales and Leases”!

Given my experience in the classroom, I therefore wasn’t surprised when last night’s Same-Sex Families panel was dominated by discussion not of the legal and political issues surrounding gay families, but by stories about the families themselves. To a great extent, this emphasis was directed by the moderator, long-time Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Gail Shister, who began by asking the couple how their families “came out,” and later asked about how the couples decided on what names they’d use (“daddy” and “papa” seem to be close to universal for gay men; lesbians have to be more creative). But for gay families (maybe for all families?), every personal question calls for a somewhat political answer.

Thus, consider these responses to the “coming out” question. Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of the Family Equality Council, noted that her seven-year-old  twins have to constantly explain who they are and where they came from. Philanthropist and founder of thebody.com, Jamie Marks, talked about his discussions with potential nursery schools over such matters as how they dealt with Mother’s Day. (One school said that the kids would just do a special project for “mom” and then give it to whichever gay dad was “the mother.” Next!) Nancy Polikoff, a law professor at American University in Washington, D.C., noted that her daughter was 26 so that it was harder for her than it likely is now: the numbers of kids being raised by same-gender couples was truly tiny back then. Penn psychiatrist Steven Sokoll explained the decision-making process that led his family (including a son and a daughter) to a supportive suburb, and to a public school there. The importance of such support has caused the parents to leave their daughter in the public school despite what he described as a less-than-ideal academic fit.

On the names issue, Chrisler’s response was particularly interesting: Names matter. Who are these people to the family, and how should we describe them to create the appropriate relationship between them and our families? For adoptive kids, that might mean referring to “birth mother”; for kids conceived through surrogacy, parents who want to make clear that the sperm donor isn’t a father shouldn’t use that word in describing him.  In a way, I understood Dr. Sokoll’s point about forms to be a qualification to Chrisler’s comments: Yes, we decide what names to use, but we’re not the only “deciders.” Schools, businesses and governments send messages about our families too, either by changing forms to reflect the reality of same-gender parents (or not, as I discussed in this earlier post about my experience with the Social Security office), or by granting us the name and status of marriage (as opposed to no recognition, or the more limited “civil union” status).

Shister, who has a terrific sense of humor but was somewhat out-of-date in her knowledge of current developments, did move the discussion towards more scholarly, educational topics at times. Polikoff, one of the nation’s leading experts on cutting-edge family law issues, was given just enough time for a breathless run-through of some of the difficult issues that same-gender parents face, including having to adopt their own children (think about it!). I urge anyone interested in this and other topics of interest to gay families to pick up her excellent book, “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law.” I devoured it last summer. Polikoff is good at explaining complex issues in a common-sensical, clear way. The book changed my thinking about the importance we assign to marriage over other forms of families that also need legal protection and social support.

The final question, about the importance vel non of opposite-gender role models, became the highlight of the session. Polikoff situated the question within its sociological context, reminding everyone that the data show that parental gender doesn’t matter (a new, meta-analysis of the data making the point even more decisively is about to come out, she said). Marks related a story about a friend, who, on seeing Marks’s daughter having trouble removing her nail polish, said: “You too?”

Then Chrisler brought down the house. Rising up in an escalating indignation, she went after the supposed need for “role models” of the same sex, calling it “based on social gender stereotyping” that, in turn, is code for slamming same-sex parents as deficient in parenting because the couple is “missing” a gender.

Please don’t make me teach “Sales and Leases.”

Ho, Hum…. (Washington Passes Full Domestic Partnership Law)

April 17th, 2009 1 comment

In a story that attracted little attention outside of the state (except on gay news websites), the Washington State legislature on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that expands the state’s existing domestic partnership registry to grant same-sex couples the same benefits as married couples. Opponents have sprung into action, but have little chance of undoing the legislation in a state that’s prepared to take at least this step.

What does it say about the state of the marriage equality movement when “virtual marriage” has become the compromise norm in a growing number of states? (New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon and California now have laws approximating marriage for same-sex couples.) And it’s a norm that elicits a collective “ho, hum” from all but the most apoplectic equality opponents. It’s still not true equality, of course. I recall hearing Andrew Sullivan say, a few years ago, that these “virtual equality” laws are really “pure” discrimination. That’s exactly right: Once equality of benefits is granted, all that separates the two “classes” is status, or a kind of legal caste. Here’s one opponent of the domestic partnership legislation, in a comment posted to the Seattle PI’s website:

“Your [sic] not equal. You’ll ALWAYS be two same sex people who THINK they have what I have being MARRIED to one man for 27 years. You will never be equal to me.”

She might have added: “So, there!” But she’s right, as long as the law continues this separation. Further, this verbal foot-stamp is in fact no different from that of more sophisticated equality opponents. Consider Maggie Gallagher’s statement, speaking of why civil unions were better (from her perspective) than marriage:

If the 15 words “Marriage in the United States is exclusively a union of one man and one woman” are placed in our Constitution, we can point to those who claim civil unions are marriages and say with confidence, “Not in the United States.”

So, there!

It’s likely for this reason that courts have started to look much more closely at arguments that civil unions and domestic partnerships don’t satisfy equality guarantees built into state constitutions. This is from the Connecticut Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health: “Despite the truly laudable effort of the legislature in equalizing the legal rights afforded same sex and opposite sex couples, there is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society  than marriage.”

To even more pointed effect, In Re Marriage Cases (from California): “[R]etaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise—now emphatically rejected by this state—that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects   “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples.”

Of course, these courts are correct. So are the civil union commissions in both Vermont and New Jersey, both of which came to a conclusion even Sarah Palin could understand (if not articulate): Civil unions don’t confer equality. Yet I’m starting to like civil unions and domestic partnerships. They’re training wheels, of a sort; not for the couples, but for the larger society. By granting formal recognition and the (state-conferred) benefits of marriage to gay couples, they bring us much closer to equality in the short term, and simultaneously give root to the idea that these couples pose no threat to marriage. Soon thereafter, the citizens become more confident; the training wheels are removed, and full marriage equality is achieved. It’s already happened in Vermont, and I expect it to happen in New Jersey and New Hampshire soon.

Civil unions? Domestic partnerships? Ho, hum… in the short run.