What if there was no such thing as legal marriage? As someone who has been an outspoken supporter of gay-marriage since long before it was a political issue, I am stunned to propose that gay people shouldn't get married. Neither should straight people. I'm ready to support civil unions. Civil unions for ALL.
After exploring loads of conversations around the issue of gay-marriage, it has become clear to me that this is largely an issue of nomenclature. Most - if not all - of the democratic front-runners have said that they will support civil unions for gay couples. Personally, I was a bit upset by the idea that they could acknowledge that gay people can and should have all the same rights as straight people, were willing to grant those rights, but were still unwilling to call it marriage.
If all the same rights are granted to both marriages and civil unions, and they are functionally the same thing, why should they be called something different? It seems to me that there is one answer to that - religion - which, as I understand it, is supposed to be separate from our government. If a civil union is a legal/governmental status that ascribes certain rights to people, then the defining term should be a civil one, not a religious one. So, if calling it "marriage" is offensive to some people's religion, then why don't we call them ALL Civil Unions?
Doesn't that make everyone happy? It does "defend" marriage, as described by some religious groups. It does grant the same rights to all people.
If Civil Unions are the de facto term for these lifelong household partnerships, then people - gay or straight - will all have them. Then, some people - religiously minded - will very likely go on and have weddings. They will have traditional ceremonies in religious buildings, officiated by religious people, and they will have marriages.
I have heard it suggested that by virtue of having a different name, "civil unions" provide the ground for discrimination. A continuation of the "separate but unequal" legacies given us with "don't ask, don't tell" and other pseudo civil rights moves. I don't disagree that there is inherent discrimination in having 2 different names. But I think there are those that want it. And maybe they should have it.
How does that differ, really, from other religious ceremonies that mark stages of life, but grant no legal rights with them? When I attended the first communion of a friend's daughter a few years ago, I attended a beautiful religious ceremony that was very important to everyone involved and was something very moving and special, declaring their dedication to their church. It was beautiful. It did not, however, grant them any particular legal rights. Likewise Bar Mitzvahs. I see no compelling reason why these important religious ceremonies can't peacefully coexist alongside civil ceremonies of a similar nature.
The resulting "discrimination" then would not be "gay or straight," but "religious or not religious." I'm comfortable with that. Religion is a choice, and people should be free to make - and proclaim - that choice. But it should have no bearing on their - or anyone else's - legal rights.
Personally, I am not religious. I would be happy to tell people that I was "unionized" 14 years ago. That for 14 years I have been in a sacred relationship with a man with whom I intend to spend my life, raise our child, and create a life that will be ever evolving. It is a very civil union, built on love and respect and a dedication to the life we have created.
I have countless friends who have similar relationships. A lot of them happen to be homosexual couples that have children. A lot of them happen to be heterosexual couples that have children. Some of them happen to be very religious - and they should have the right to choose, and proudly proclaim, how important their religion is to them.
We should all have the right to choose and proudly proclaim our unions with that which matters to us.
I tried, just for fun, to change my relationship status on Facebook to "unionized." But they didn't have a write-in option. Someday, maybe, we'll all have the right and freedom to declare our devotion to each other using a word that does not tie us to religious doctrines that have no bearing on the lives we choose.
I have to point out that my very funny (and super smart) friend Delta reminded me that there is no other legally binding contract that requires you to go have someone - secular or religious - approve it afterwards. Not a mortgage, which is arguably wrought with more legal ramifications. Not a car loan (cracking me up, she says, "if you stop talking to your spouse, no one shows up at your house and repossess your husband.) Her parting thoughts: "I say, ceremonies for all, or require them for none. Loan officers and DMV clerks should have little bowls of confetti and cupcakes for everyone after they sign the dotted line" That image cracks me up, can't you just see them throwing confetti while saying "next." Hysterical!
Cross posted from my JUST CAUSE blog. please join the conversation.