Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Going Beyond Empty Claims

[With UPDATE below]

Some of those who oppose same-sex marriage simultaneously claim to support reciprocal beneficiary laws which grant same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage. For instance, after its instrumental role in the passage of California's Propostition 8, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) claimed:

"The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches."

Such support is appreciated even though I take issue with statements that make "the traditional family" the sun around which all other families revolve. Regarding support of civil unions but not marriage, I hear similar pronouncements from other "marriage defenders." Yet, perhaps because I mostly see these same folks celebrating our every political loss, I'm inevitably left wondering what these folks are tangibly doing to help us gain the rights they claim to be so in favor of. From where I sit, I only see "marriage defenders" take actions in the real world that deny us rights rather than those that help us obtain them.

On December 23, 2008, right before he left office, President Bush took a surprising break from history and signed a law benefiting same-sex couples. Specifically, the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 allows same-sex couples to inherit retirement plans from their partner without facing the tax penalty that unmarried couples face. Previously, individuals in a same-sex relationship could be their partner's beneficiary but upon receiving the benefit, the surviving partner would face an immediate tax penalty on the inheritance.

This law represents a welcome change. Although I profoundly disagree that we should have to earn our state and federal rights as equal citizens on a piecemeal basis, it is better than nothing. Unfortunately, surviving individuals in same-sex relationships are still denied Social Security spousal benefits and survivor's insurance that surviving members of legal marriages are able to receive. As taxpaying citizens, that is fundamentally unfair.

Recently, the Human Rights Campaign, in response to the LDS Church's claim that it does not oppose non-marital and other legal benefits for same-sex couples, has recently requested the LDS Church to support legislation in Utah that would offer same-sex couples some of the benefits, protections, and rights of marriage. I certainly hope that the LDS Church responds (and perhaps urges its members to put their considerable funds where its loud mouth is). Otherwise its claim to support legal protections for same-sex couples looks like nothing more than meaningless, false-compassionate political posturing. I also hope that other "marriage defenders" who claim to support protections for same-sex couples are able to recognize and act on some of the basic unfairnesses in our legal system.

Many of these issues, for us, are not abstractions. Our families matter too. And yes, we do have families, even if some people do not call them that. As it stands now, no web of (expensive) legal arrangements can duplicate all of the benefits that same-sex couples need to protect their families.

I wonder if there's some way for us to work together in a spirit of compassion to protect all families.

UPDATE: Thus far, the Mormon Church has been all talk and no action when it comes to LGBT non-marital rights. Yesterday, the Box Turtle Bulletin reported that Utah legislators voted on a bill that would have granted non-marital couples the same right to sue for wrongful death that married couples have. Not only did the Mormon Church remain silent on this bill, but it died in committee when its 4 Mormon members voted against it (compared to 3 non-Mormons who voted Yes or who were absent).

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