I posted this comment to an acquaintance's journal, and thought it might be worth posting up as an entry in its own right.
For the record, civil unions aren't the same as marriage. Even if the rights on paper are the same, as I understand it there are a lot of policies (both government and private for things like insurance companies) that refer to "marriage" or "spouse." If a policy refers to "marriage" or "spouses," the spirit of the law would indicate that civil unions and partners thereof also count.
But if it's not required, you know people and companies and organizations will try to get away with giving gays less. In states that allow civil unions, you get conversations that go like this:
"I know what you're asking for, but it says marriage here, and what you have is a civil union."
"Dude, you know what they mean."
"But it says marriage, and everyone knows gays can't marry."
That's what tends to happen in states that allow gays to have civil unions but not marriages. I think a lot of people haven't quite caught on to the fact that we've tried the whole line that "it's okay to have separate establishments and accomodations for different kinds of people. As long as they're equal, there's nothing wrong. And people will make sure they're equal, right?"
America sucks at "separate but equal," which is why we unfortunately can't use "civil union" as a synonym for the legal contract of marriage. I did for a while, because I think the government should let consenting adults have whatever kind of legal marriage they want, and we'll leave individual church denominations the choice of whether they want to discriminate against certain kinds of couples in their own religious practice. Can't legally stop them from being dicks there.
One thing that I think is interesting about the times when this comes up in political discourse is watching how many politicians are pushing for civil unions because they really want gays to be able to get married... they just can't use the M-word without panicking churches who're afraid they'll lose their leeway to discriminate. Personally I think Obama is for full-on "call it marriage" gay marriage. He's dropped hints about it when talking with LGBT publications.
This was a great article from The Advocate.
Q: Both you and your wife speak eloquently about being told to wait your turn and how if you had done that, you might not have gone to law school or run for Senate or even president. To some extent, isn’t that what you’re asking same-sex couples to do by favoring civil unions over marriage -- to wait their turn?
I don’t ask them that. Anybody who’s been at an LGBT event with me can testify that my message is very explicit -- I don’t think that the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community, should take its cues from me or some political leader in terms of what they think is right for them. It’s not my place to tell the LGBT community, "Wait your turn." I’m very mindful of Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” where he says to the white clergy, "Don’t tell me to wait for my freedom."
So I strongly respect the right of same-sex couples to insist that even if we got complete equality in benefits, it still wouldn’t be equal because there’s a stigma associated with not having the same word, marriage, assigned to it. I understand that, but my perspective is also shaped by the broader political and historical context in which I’m operating. And I’ve said this before -- I’m the product of a mixed marriage that would have been illegal in 12 states when I was born. That doesn’t mean that had I been an adviser to Dr. King back then, I would have told him to lead with repealing an antimiscegenation law, because it just might not have been the best strategy in terms of moving broader equality forward.
That’s a decision that the LGBT community has to make. That’s not a decision for me to make. (...)
As I said, I think the LGBT community has every right to push for what it thinks is right. And I think that it’s absolutely fair to ask me for leadership, and my argument would be that I’m ahead of the curve on these issues compared to 99% of most elected officials around the country on this issue. So I think I’ve shown leadership.
What this says to me is, "I can't fight this battle right now, because if I do I won't get elected and I won't be any good to you. But I want you to keep fighting for it because you're right, for the same reasons the civil rights movement was right. I just can't die on that hill right now if you still want a president in office who gives a damn about you."
Fortunately people like me aren't running for election, which means that there are basically no real consequences to me being vocal about what I want. I don't want civil rights being up to a vote, because whenever the majority gets to vote on the rights of the minority, it goes poorly.
I agree that the USA will become more and more ready for gay marriage because, despite being legendary worldwide for being one of the most conservative nations this side of the Middle East, we're catching up. But even if leaving these issues up to state vote means that people will eventually get their rights, it will be after a long struggle in which people continue to suffer. Real people, who will never get their time or their sanity back once they've been wasted by injustice. I know that eventually gays will be able to marry in America, and the official LDS hierarchy wouldn't be so scared if they didn't know it, too.
What I also know is that people have already suffered because of Prop 8, and it's only been a few days. And that means it's too late. Their rights have been infringed upon, their relationships degraded, their commitments disregarded. I saw an entry on livejournal that was really short and still just hurt to read it.
A gay friend of mine in California just changed his Facebook status from "engaged" to "in a relationship." Obviously, who cares about Facebook... but that breaks my heart.
And, you know, the way it's actually worded makes it even worse: "[my friend] went from being "engaged" to "in a relationship."
Just like that.
If I were engaged to Brian and suddenly Indiana passed a law stating that we couldn't marry because, say, our religions don't match up the way the state thinks they should... how would I feel? How would you feel?
Because of how that would feel, I've actually made the decision not to marry until gays in my state can marry. In Indiana this means that the best I can have is a domestic partnership. Maybe if straight people start getting the little half-marriages allowed to gays, we can erode the myth of "separate but equal" by refusing to let gays be separate. What gays can't have, I don't want. which, amusingly enough, means that it isn't gays who are damaging my likelihood to get a "legitimate, godly" marriage. It's people who're scared of gays, and of what'll happen if gays are treated like they're citizens.
Perhaps that's part of why this is such a powerful issue for me. I'm a woman in a healthy, loving, beautiful committed relationship. I know that's what Brian and I have, and so does everyone else. But if he were a woman and not a man, he would be the "wrong" sex to have a healthy, loving, beautiful committed relationship with me.
I think it's sex discrimination to let Brian marry me because he's a man when he would be forbidden to do so if he were a woman. Putting it in terms of sex discrimination isn't something most people do, but that's how I think of it. I would have the same relationship with Brian if we were two gay men or two gay women. But if one of us had the wrong sex organs, we would be forbidden to marry because our relationship would be less morally-correct according to a religious code that neither of us shares.
I think that's tragic. That's why, until gays can have it... I don't want it.