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Letter: Forcing the issue

Thursday, February 12, 2004

"I'm a heterosexual male and I would like a civil union with my girlfriend. Are we eligible?" I asked the Vermont Secretary of State's office.

"We don't care whether you're heterosexual, but you're ineligible because you're of opposite sexes," the official replied. "Civil unions are only allowed for same-sex couples. Opposite-sex couples get married; same-sex couples get a civil union."

My activist instincts immediately tingled with the possibility of a long drawn-out lawsuit demanding the equal right to a civil union for opposite-sex couples. My girlfriend, the more sensible half of this couple, responded as all sensible people do: "Why would you want a civil union when we can just get married?"

"Aha! So you admit that marriage is better, and no one in their right mind would choose a civil union when they could get married instead." I continued, "So why should same-sex couples have to accept what everyone agrees is a worse choice?"

In other words, if no sane couple would willingly choose civil union over marriage, doesn't that point out the inherent inferiority of civil unions?

From a legal perspective, gay marriage provides federal benefits, especially transferability to other states, and civil union does not. From an activist perspective, gay marriage provides a means to push the law elsewhere because of the transferability to other states. Even if Romney and Finneran succeed in passing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, which will require 18 months, there will have been thousands of same-sex couples who got married during that window of opportunity.

In other words, any same-sex marriages anywhere in the country will force the issue nationally in every situation where married couples have special rights - hospital visitation, immigration, home ownership, survivorship, ad infinitum. This is the most important outcome of the Massachusetts gay marriage law - even if it is reversed by a constitutional amendment, it will have created thousands of precedents to push the issue further.

That's exactly why Romney and Finneran do not want any gay marriages. And it's exactly why anyone sympathetic to gay rights should demand that they be allowed.