Friday, March 05, 2004

Breakin' Up is Hard to Do: Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage

Breakin’ Up is Hard to do: Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriage

Mar. 5, 2004

[This is a revision of a previous post that generated absolutely zero reader interest. Oh well, as the kids like to say. I think our country, upon the advice and approbation of even some conservatives, is about to make a big mistake. This essay will not change that.]

With the United States Supreme Court having recently found no objection within the text of our constitution to homosexual sodomy, with the Massachusetts Supreme Court having recently discovered no similar objection to an oxymoronic right to homosexual marriage within that state’s constitution, and with the Mayor of San Francisco and his sycophants so gaily flouting a voter-approved state law by issuing marriage licenses to any homosexual couple willing to make pilgrimage to the golden state, it’s hard not to sense a trend. Apparently the President has sensed it too, for he has now, finally, put the weight of his moral support behind the Federal Marriage Amendment. But it all put me in mind of a news item from several months ago.

The item began: "An Iowa judge's divorce decree for two women has sparked a legal challenge that could help decide whether some states can bar same-sex unions while others permit it."

What the Iowa judge did was grant a "divorce" to two lesbians who exercised their civil right to get civilly united, presumably before a civil magistrate representing some part of the great state of Vermont's civil legal system, resulting for the two women in what's known as a "civil union."

So what's the problem? Well, in order to grant a divorce, you have to recognize the relationship that led to the request, and under a 1997 Iowa law, same-sex unions are not permissible. The judge - said a "conservative" group appealing the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court - should have sent the couple back to Vermont.

And what were the two ladies doing in Iowa? I have no idea. Maybe they like watching corn grow. Or maybe they were trying to spread whatever it is that ails Vermont. One thing that ails it is Howard Dean. It’s remarkable how much trouble a man from New England who will never be president can cause in the heartland. He's a big supporter of civil unions, and likes to brag about how his state was one of the first to grant them legal standing. However, he says he does not support same-sex marriage, a sure-fire way to alienate the vast majority of the voting public. So the reason that he does not support this latter thing must be that it's somehow different from the former.

People who get civilly married apparently have the right to get divorced (often uncivilly). But if two people get civil unionized, what do they call it when they want to break it off? It can't be divorce because you have to be married to get one. Maybe they get their union busted. That's what the judge should have said: "I hereby declare this union busted." But he didn't; he said "divorce." It sounds to me as if he's trying to start trouble. Those rascally judges - always looking for the levity in the law to relieve the boredom of the bench. One of these days one of them's going to bang his gavel down and tell us that the law of gravity is hereby repealed and that cows now have permission to jump over the moon. And the way things are going, we'll look skyward.

When the idea of civil unions first came up I laughed and said, "Well there's a non-starter for you." What did I know? But now that so many judges think it's in fact a starter, it got me to wondering again what it is, because I never really knew. How was it different from same-sex marriage? I figured it had to be different because they used different words to describe it. On the other hand, since it had legal status, the parties to it must have signed some official paper or raised their right hand in the presence of some official person and repeated some solemn words that swore them to...what? I wondered if they had to enunciate all that "for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till dissension do us part" stuff. So that got me to wondering if "civil union" was just some sly wordplay - a euphemized "wedge issue," a Trojan horse in the house of marriage. It reminded me of the hard case excuse for abortion, of how we're against it except in the cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal deformity. Then, in these cases, the thing that horrifies us, abortion, suddenly doesn't horrify us anymore. I guess it's no longer abortion but something else. We need a name for it.

I decided I ought to make some effort to find out; it didn't seem charitable to be so suspicious of other people's motives. So I found this long-ago news item at Maggie Gallagher’s, which says that, in the wake of the Vermont Supreme Court ruling invalidating that state's marriage statute on the basis of a "common benefits" provision in that state's constitution, the legislature did not provide same-sex couples with the right to marry, specifically retaining the definition of marriage as "the legally recognized union of one man and one woman." Instead, it enacted laws that allow for "civil unions" between people of the same gender, effective July 1, 2000, and thus providing to same-sex couples the benefits and protections that flow from marriage.

Simple me, it still sounded like marriage. You get the "benefits and protections that flow from marriage", but it's not marriage because it's called by a different name. Then I found this article at the Weekly Standard by Ms. Gallagher where it appears that she's thinking along the same lines:

What some dismiss as protecting "merely" the word marriage is actually 90 percent of the loaf...The opponents of marriage understand what many of its friends do not: Capturing the word is the key to deconstructing the institution. She also asks the question: Are civil unions, then, no different from gay marriage itself? Is granting the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples the same thing as giving away marriage? And she comes to the peculiar conclusion that no it isn't: 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."

She doesn't want to hold politicians "hostage" to a losing battle over civil unions, but she thinks we can win the battle over the Marriage Amendment. It seems that's what we're always reduced to anymore, strategizing in order to salvage what little is left to us. If the Amendment triumphs but civil unions survive, it still looks to me like we've lost the loaf, all 100% of it. We win the battle over the use of the word "marriage," but lose the war over its meaning, for there is still this other thing that retains all the "benefits" of it but none of the...what? Prestige? Ambience? Social oneupmanship? Somebody tell me what the "what" is, because that's the thing that makes the difference.

Do not mistake me, she says. In the long run, I believe that creating legal alternatives to marriage is counterproductive and wrong. But civil unions are one unwise step down a path away from a marriage culture. Gay marriage is the end of the road.

Yes, all right, but what's the difference betwixt them? It sounds like one leads to the other even if they aren't already the same thing, which is how it looks. Well, Ms. Gallagher is a heroine in this area, toiling her life away in an effort to save the Institution from the sexual anarchists, so I thought I'd find out what the anarchists themselves had to say. Surely the people in favor of unionizing fellow citizens of a non-complementary sexual orientation while marching under the "you want it, you got it" theory of constitutional rights would know what they meant by the words 'civil union', since they probably came up with it in the first place.

Speaking of anarchists, you can usually count on the ACLU if you're looking to overthrow some Christian remnant still clinging to our sense of the American family. They've even got "American" and "civil" and "union" in their name, which made me suspicious from the outset, but as I said, I'm trying not to doubt another's sincerity. Sure enough, they had a whole page on the issue, and after reading it I certainly don't doubt their sincerity, even if it's in the service of subterfuge, for they are quite candid about it. A few excerpts from their gloating celebration of the 1999 Vermont Supreme Court's ruling allowing for civil unions. See if the picture becomes clear:

...a momentous legal victory...

A civil union is a comprehensive legal status parallel to civil marriage for all purposes under Vermont state law…Thus…all legal rights which apply to "family"... also apply to spouses in a civil union.

Once you are spouses in a civil union, you are not "married"; but you are not "single" either… (Oh.)

Other states may or may not allow you to "divorce" under their state law. (My advice: go to Iowa.)

If an employer-sponsored domestic partnership plan requires you to be "single," then questions may arise as to your eligibility to participate. If it only requires that you be "unmarried," you could honestly state you are not married. (Sounds like dissembling to me.)

Some states also require spouses to assume the other spouse's debts to creditors, and this might apply to spouses in a civil union. (Wait'll you try alimony.)

...even if a state has withheld the word "marriage" from same-sex couples, it is fair to argue that it has not withheld and may not withhold the state-created rights and benefits of marriage from those families. (There's that word again.)

…In deciding to hold themselves out as the equivalent of a married couple, same-sex couples with civil unions will be on the front lines of social change. (I won't say I told you so.)

We are in a long- term civil rights struggle... (ditto.)

All right, I'm exceedingly suspicious and mistrustful, and for people like me the greatest pleasure in life is having our suspicions confirmed. I still don't know what a civil union is, but I do know that if you have it in your state, the civilly unionized homosexual couple down the street can show up with their kids (the fruit of either divorce, bisexual promiscuity, or artificial insemination) at the neighborhood block party or the PTA meeting and present themselves as a respectable married couple. You may not like it, and you'll know something's not quite right, but you'll have trouble saying what it is, at least publicly, because the support structure provided by the law will have vanished. You can, I suppose, if the Marriage Amendment succeeds, say to Fred and Steve, "I'm married and you're not." But it will be something of an empty boast. Of course, there will be awkward moments: does Fred introduce Steve as his wife or his husband? His friend? Life partner? Significantly similar other? We can strain mightily all day long for the appropriate title and none will ever ring true, but the embarrassment will be all ours.

Unlike Maggie Gallagher, some conservatives are willing not merely to put up with civil unions as a matter of strategic compromise, but actually approve of them.* This notion that we can feast on the Marriage Amendment while throwing homosexual couples the bone of civil union bespeaks a guilty conscience, as though we owe them something – a sign of tolerance and compassion, perhaps, a semblance of normalcy. "We're married but, hey, don't feel bad: you're almost married." But a bone is exactly what they’ll see it as, a scrap thrown from the table at which the rest of us sit. As the ACLU document makes clear, they will not stand for second-class citizenship or second-class “unions.” Marriage is the mainstream, and marriage is the goal. They do not want your tolerance or compassion; they want your approval and they will have it however they must get it. The essence of compromise is mutual assent, but there will be no compromise save that which is forced upon them.

Even though passage of the Amendment and the proliferation of civil unions would deny to the latter usage of a word, an official moral legitimacy will have been bestowed upon homosexual relationships - a condition precisely contrary to the Amendment’s purpose - but not legitimate enough for the activists, who will be happy to point out that the distinction we have been striving to discover here is in fact no distinction at all. What’s in a name? they will ask, and I fear for our answer.

I don’t think it’s quite dawned on us yet what’s been happening in Vermont, in Lawrence vs. Texas, in Massachusetts, and now in San Francisco.** These are not the actions of judges and public servants engaged in a zealous but well-intentioned and polite disagreement over a matter of social policy. These are the actions of people who bear utter and absolute contempt for the moral and spiritual inheritance bequeathed us by the men and women, the mothers and fathers, who came before, whose love labored in this vineyard, and whose labor was fruitful, not barren. We ought to consider the nature of that contempt before showing ourselves willing to compromise not merely a word, but the most fundamental and life-giving state of being known to man. Although our divorce laws, and the living arrangements of many of our citizens, make it appear that the promise to become “one-flesh, ‘till death do us part” exchanged between man and woman is a concept highly malleable, it is only an appearance. The substance remains to prick our collective conscience. Acceptance of civil unions will be tantamount to a public announcement that legally, and therefore morally, the substance is of no consequence. It is no more possible to compromise the meaning of that sublime union known as marriage, than it is possible to be almost pregnant.

*A couple of nights ago I heard occasional conservative and part-tiime Catholic moral theologian Bill O’Reilly, during an interview of William Bennett, pronounce his approval of civil unions. I guess that settles it.

**As I was working on this, I noticed in the news that the madness has now spread to New Mexico, New York, and New Jersey. Stanley Kurtz has articles here and here at NR explaining the awfulness of what will soon be upon us.


I was doing some research for a good friend on this subject. It involved spending many, many hours reading excruciatingly boring DOJ statistics in PDF formats about what was previously known as Domestic Violence.
[patience Mr. Luse, there is a point here] ;^)
Doemestic Violence is now known in judicialese as Intimate Partner Violence. In every other type of crime stats, perp-victim gender is readily available, but it is not so here.
Those stats are just not okay to directly correlate anymore.
So while the FBI has homosexual relationships as a catagory for it's homocide stats, homosexual relationships are now assimilated into the general population stats for the National Crime Reporting Service (NCVS) under married/unmarried relationships.
What this accomplishes is two-fold. It gives validation to such relationships by level of civil commitment and it makes it very difficult for researchers to evaluate whether such relationships involve any extraordinary incidences of abuse.
And so it goes.
Posted by Julie email at March 5, 2004 12:33 PM

Fascinating. So everything's not happening in plain view. It's like we're being eaten from the inside out.
Posted by William Luse email at March 5, 2004 02:09 PM

I think one important thing to remember is that America did not create marriage. Marriage has a historical and cultural meaning that extend far beyond its laws and constitution. Before America, there was marriage - a covenant between a man and a woman made before God. Marriage was His institution and was performed on His terms. America chose to recognize it in her constitution and law, defining what it was and who could participate in it. In this way they have created a point of intersection between church and state. If the state now wishes to recognize a long term commitment between two people, they have every right to do that. But God’s definition of Marriage is far older than America’s constitution. For that reason, I think that it is wrong for the state to redefine the term to make it include committed homosexuals.
Posted by Chublin email at March 5, 2004 02:46 PM

That marriage constitutes a "point of intersection between church and state" is no doubt true, and is probably the prime motivator of those who would destroy it.
Posted by William Luse email at March 5, 2004 03:20 PM

The culture war is being lost in the USA. Perhaps it is time for Catholics and other Christians(evangelicals) to opt out. What if we did not participate in the legal institution of marriage? What if young men and women would no longer volunteer to serve in the armed forces? To refuse to reenlist? I have the impression that white southern evangelicals are the backbone of our armed forces. Would the bi-costal elites be willing to serve? What we do not need are the pious, mealy mouthed statements of concern form our civil and religious leaders.
Posted by Brian Hjelmervik

Brian. If we didn't opt out over abortion which is a serious injustice we aren't going to opt-out en masse for gay marriage which is simply a cruel and sick joke- something to laugh at more than shed tears about.
As far as I'm concerned Christians have already lost the Gay marriage debate. 1st we simply allowed no fault divorce and then destigmatized divorce to the point where we've made marriage as a civil institution meaningless. In the gen pop it has no power over the imagination and certainly no sociological power over the wills of people. 2nd We lost the debate on homosexuality. It is no taken as a given, even in textbooks that sexual orientation is a morally neutral and unchangeable trait- like race rather than what it really is- a personal behavior defect- which can be overcome with patience and proper training (like alchohalism and kleptomania). For the great majority of people my age (21) the very terms of the debate as they understand them exclude the possibility of excluding gays from marriage. They do not even know what marriage vows are- and becuase of contracpetion and the destigmatization of pre-marital sex- they also have no idea that marriage,sex and children follow on each other very quickly. Face it folks- especially those over 50. You lost the debate for people my age. The sad part is that I can't even congratulate you on a nice effort. My parents generation made no effort. In the early 70s even most hippies thought homos were disgusting. Now the hippies are just resigned to social revolution. They've accepted homosexuality out of passivity. It's pathetic.
Posted by Michael Brendan Dougherty

well said, young master dougherty. you shine as a glimmer of hope for the future. go get 'em!
Posted by smockmomma

Except, Micki, that young master Dougherty has just laid the blame for the disaster on my generation. Ouch. Still, I hope he does go get 'em.
Brian, opting out is not an option. If we don't fight the good fight to the end, God will not forgive us.
Posted by William Luse

I agree the gay marriage debate is pretty much over and the good guys lost. I always figured we lost the debate in 1965 with the Griswold case. Once you de-link the sex act and procreation, so goes proscriptions on homosexual sex.
1965 wasn't really that long ago, but things have gone predictably since. Roe v. Wade came directly out of the Griswold's "right to privacy" find in the Constitution, something made out of whole cloth.
Posted by tso

I think that we lost because we were blindsided, starting in the 1920s or even earlier with such 'thinkers' as Upton Sinclair and Margaret Sanger.
I just finished reading a book by Robert A Heinlein (science fiction)that was published following the death of both the author and his widow. It was written in 1938 or so. THe society described is his idea of a Utopia, BTW. In one section, it talks about how a 'new' civil liberty was defined constitutionally - "The right of privacy" and how this right ultimately led to the disestablishment of civil marriage. Pretty prescient, no?
Posted by alicia

TSO and Alicia, You're both right.
I'll be posting some Sunday thoughts in the near future, TS, using the words of a great Catholic philospher to back you up. Also, in case you didn't read it, I trace the history you're talking about in "Sodomy Goes Straight."
Never read Heinlein, Alicia. Is he any good (aside from being prescient)? By that I mean, can he write?
Posted by William Luse

Opting out is perhaps not the right word. Perhaps the time has come to simply withdraw our support for the system. The bicoastal elites depend upon the support of hundreds of thousands of young people (who are often devout, moral people)who serve in the military. These same people are held up to ridicule and contempt by those same elites. Can there not be a campaign by orthodox christian leaders to encourage a boycott of military service while our government tolerates such evils as abortion and promiscuity?
Posted by Brian Hjelmervik

Perhaps Christians in America could abstain from Christmas presents for anyone over 12, and cut back for the children. If our Bishops made a publicity campaign out of this directly linking it to the issue of abortion, we might have an effect, even if sales are depressed only marginally. Sorry to go on and on.
Posted by Brian Hjelmervik

So when evil strikes our country, as it did on 9/11, you would have young Christians decline the call to fight that evil? To adopt such a tactic is to leave our country defenseless, and to say that there's nothing about it worth saving, to say, in fact, that what the terrorists did to us we deserved. I would be loath to condemn my fellow citizens to death, even as some of them condemn the unborn. You need to find another form of protest. It's hard work, and endlessly frustrating, but it's part of the fight.
Posted by William Luse

Bill - yes, Heinlein can definitely write. He writes persuasively and excellently and is on the wrong side of many issues and the right side of some. I have read Heinlein since I was 7 years old. He was the writer that got me into reading science fiction.
I will send you some stuff if you want. But let me warn you, he is very subversive. It took me a long and difficult time sorting out the Truth from the many truths he expounds on. He is kind of like Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce (both writers he admired) in that you don't realize that you are being led down the primrose path until you fall off the cliff.
Posted by alicia

We have a volunteer military. To decline to volunteer does not leave our country defenseless. Either others (i.e. the libertines) volunteer, or we again have to resort to a draft. Either way it forces the pro-abortion left and libertarian right to consider where our freedoms come from and how they are sustained. They come from God and cannot be sustained by tolerating evil acts. If the moral character of American society is hollowed out form the inside, there will be few to volunteer. Anyway, I did my volunteering over thirty years ago, so I won't talk about it anymore.
Posted by Brian Hjelmervik

I don't mind if you talk about it; I'm just not following your logic. You said that "The bicoastal elites depend upon the support of hundreds of thousands of young people (who are often devout, moral people)who serve in the military." If these young people fail to volunteer when the need arises, I don't see how it can but leave us, if not utterly defenseless, then horribly weakened, which may amount to the same thing. You are right that our freedoms come from God, but that doesn't mean we can't sustain them if we tolerate certain evil acts. Every society ever formed has shown such tolerance to some degree. What you mean is that you don't think we can survive this particular evil. You may be right, but it won't be because I failed to do my duty. You did yours, and so now are those young people, and that may be what's keeping us from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are still just men among us.
Posted by William Luse

Civil Unions are the modern equivalent of "separate but equal." Their acceptance on pragmatic grounds has already let the cat out of the bag.
Posted by Kevin Jones

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