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Posts Tagged ‘civil unions’

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.

Emboldened in Hawaii

January 19th, 2010 No comments

Are civil unions the compromise they’re touted as? Not according to this story from Hawaii, where religious anti-equality opponents repeatedly discussed the sanctity of marriage in opposing — a Hawaii civil unions bill! The rhetoric was almost entirely religious, even though the bill has nothing to do with religion, even nominally. Counter-protesters also invoked religion in arguing for the bill. What’s left to say at this point. Maybe these three points:

  • For some, religion is too powerful to allow even civil equality for same-sex couples. They don’t want to look at the lives of their gay neighbors.
  • These counter-demonstrations show the peril in relying on religious arguments in civil discourse. The question becomes: Whose religion?
  • I can’t help thinking that recent legislative victories from the anti-equality forces in New Jersey and New York have emboldened the other side.

Expect this fight to go on for awhile. And don’t expect the Supreme Court to put a quick end to it.

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.

I’m Not Sick, Mr. President

June 12th, 2009 No comments

Here’s Obama’s response to Brian Williams’s question about whether proponents of gay marriage have a friend in the White House:

Translation: No.

Instead, we get the boilerplate about civil unions, benefits — and “the right to visit each other in hospitals”?? After the show, I half-expected an episode of “L.A. Law.” How very late 80’s of you, Mr. President.

Please, can we stop talking about hospitals? Yes, there have been (and even today, continue to be) horror stories of loved ones denied access to hospitals, but is this really a controversial issue today? Even some of the most right-wingnuts support our right to visit each other in the hospital.

And speaking of the late 1980’s, I can’t help noting that the whole issue of the right to hospital visits took on political currency during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. There’s always been an uneasy mix of compassion and fear to this discussion. The compassion part was the text; the fear of the diseased “other,” the subtext. I’ve seen more than one AIDS caregiver become lachrymose, years later, when recounting stories of how only they would change the sweat-and-blood soaked sheets of their spouse, son, or brother.  Often the nurses charged with that duty simply refused. So letting gay spouses visit each other in the hospital stemmed in part from a “better them than me” sensibility.

How about a “live” issue? Here’s one that reflects reality today for many gay people and their families: The lack of dignity, transmitted through law and rhetoric, that the children of gay parents have to deal with every day, in ways overt and subtle. If my twin daughters were to say to Maggie Gallagher: “My daddy and papa are married,”  she would respond: “Not in the United States.”1

What would President Obama say to them? It disturbs me that I can’t answer that question.

  1. Her statement was made in connection with her support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but  is to an extent true even in its absence, because DOMA commits the federal government to the position of non-recognition of gay  marriages, even if valid in the couples’ home states.