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Marking Equality Milestones in DC, Maryland

Today we mark another milestone on the superhighway to full equality, as DC began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The District joins five states, and, although progress has otherwise slowed for the time being, who can seriously doubt that before long this struggle will be in the rear-view mirror?

There’s always something to drag it down, though. Although the Catholic Archdiocese in D.C. didn’t carry through on its empty, bullying threat to leave the city (and the many poor and homeless it serves) were the law to take effect, it did pull this stunt:

[A]n important change to [Catholic Charities] group health care benefit plan…will take effect on March 2, 2010 due to a change in the law of the District of Columbia. [T]he existing health coverage of current employees will not be affected…. New employees and current employees requesting revisions in benefit coverage will be affected by this change.

Catholic Charities will continue to honor the health plan coverage that current employees have as of March 1, 2010. As of March 2, a new plan will be in effect that will cover new employees and requests for benefit changes by current employees….[S]pouses not in the plan as of March 1, will not be eligible for coverage in the future.

Read their lips: No new spouses — gay or straight. That’s one way of complying with the law allowing same-sex unions. Another, more humane approach that would also have allowed them to stick to their principles would have been to allow each employee to designate one other adult for coverage (isn’t this fairer anyway?), or just to give each employee a certain number of health care insurance dollars to spend. That Catholic Charities instead chose to freeze out every newly married couple strongly suggests that the Church wanted to have its principles and its money, too. This is the cheaper alternative, but of course the Church doesn’t even cite that plain fact.

Well, sorry to spoil the party. It really is a great day in DC, and derivatively in Maryland, as well. As Chris Geidner authoritatively reported last week, that state’s Attorney General recently opined that the state’s supreme court, were it called upon to decide the issue, would rule that out-of-state, same-sex marriages should be recognized. Thus, just as New Yorkers may go to any of several neighboring jurisdictions to marry (CT, MA, VT, or a place called “Canada”), so too may Maryland residents (Marylanders? Marylandites?) now cruise into nearby DC, get married, and then call themselves married back home. The importance of this right hasn’t been sufficiently appreciated. While it’s a nuisance to get them in MD and NY, marriage rights are now available in seven states, as well as in DC.

The slog towards equality continues. As the next post shows, though, it doesn’t run in an unbroken line.

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