Friday, January 18, 2008

The Illogic of Civil Unions

As you may know, New Hampshire's legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex civil unions. This law went into effect January 1, 2008. Lest any marriage defenders worry, though, civil unions are totally not marriage. For, marriage and civil unions, we all know, are separate [but equal?] institutions. And it's a good thing. Because we wouldn't want to call two things that are essentially so very different by the same word. See, marriage is for one man and one woman. Civil unions are for one man and one man or one woman and one woman.

Since same-sex couples require civil unions, as opposed to marriage, let's explore how civil unions are different from marriage.

1. State Benefits.

According to the New Hampshire Civil Union Law a civil union is a legal status in which the parties have "the same rights, responsibilities, and obligations as married couples."

See, people who are married are entitled to certain state rights and subject to certain obligations and responsibilities. The difference between marriage and civil union is that parties to a civil union are entitled to the same rights and subject to the same obligations and responsibilities that married people are.


It is necessary to call same-sex relationships "civil union" and opposite-sex relationships "marriage" to emphasize that both types of relationships are entitled to the exact same state benefits and responsibilities.

Oh wait. This example wasn't much of a difference. In fact, it's a similarity.

Moving on.

2. Federal Benefits

Married couples in New Hampshire are entitled to all of the federal benefits and responsibilities that come along with marriage. Civil union-ed couples are not (thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act).

It is necessary to call same-sex relationships "civil union" and opposite-sex relationships "marriage" to emphasize that one type of relationship is entitled to federal benefits and responsibilities and one is not.

In this sense, we see that married couples are "more equal" than civil unioned couples. Scratch that. In this sense, we see that married couples are more privileged than civil union-ed couples.

3. More Than a Committed Friendship

Recognizing that same-sex couples are more than just two good friends who want to live together, the New Hampshire law does not allow one to be civil unionized if that person is already married or civil unioned to someone else.

Oh wait, that's another similarity.

4. Ceremony

Because marriage and civil unions are so different,

"The exact same individuals authorized to legally join two people in marriage are authorized to join two people in a civil union."

Oops, golly, that's another similarity.

5. Age

Oh, wait. These relationships are different.

14-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls can obtain permission to marry in New Hampshire. However, those seeking to civil unionize must be at least 18.

Okay, this post has been an exercise in demonstrating the schizophrenia of civil union law. Marriage defenders are so eager to hoard marriage as their own that they blind themselves to the fact that gay people who want to marry just like straight people who want to marry! Yet, having teased out the one major difference between gay and straight couples (gender of each partner) they are convinced that this difference precludes same-sex partners from having a marital relationship.

And now, we have a situation where those in civil unions receive all of the state benefits of marriage, but they cannot call their relationships "marriage." Those in civil unions must have ceremonies officiated by the same types of officials that officiated weddings, but they cannot call their relationships "marriage."

I suppose we should be thankful for at least the state benefits of marriage that are conferred upon civil union-ed couples (because there are many in the anti-equality movement who seek to deny us even civil unions). But because civil union-ed couples are unable to receive the federal benefits of marriage, civil unions remain an unequal institution when compared to marriage.

It is frustrating, infuriating, and unfair that we must have two unequal institutions for the same thing. And those who claim that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are not "the same" need a serious reality check. Sure, there are LGBT persons who do not want or seek marriage, and that's okay (just as it's okay for heterosexuals not to marry).

Fundamentally, those who oppose marriage equality while being for civil unions must be morally okay with the concept of separate and unequal.

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