Civil Union == Marriage

Filed under:Politics — posted by Anwyn on November 10, 2006 @ 8:40 pm

Since the beginning of the debate over gay marriage, the “moderate” argument has supposedly been, “Well, I’m against gay marriage but support civil unions.”

It’s time for somebody to explain to me, clearly and point by point, what possible difference there is between the two.

Xrlq and Lileks both support the distinction. Xrlq and I had a weak Round 1 about this a couple months ago.

Me: “The fundamental fiction in this whole thing is the supposed separation between marriage and civil union. There’s no practical difference, and a state that pretends to preclude one while allowing the other is fooling itself.”

Xrlq: “Nonsense. For one thing, the two are not identical, and certainly don’t have to be. For another, even if they were that would be no reason for a constitutional amendment, unless you happen to live in one of the few states whose judges think the constitution requires one or the other.”

Take the Xrlq Challenge: explain to me why they are not identical in the eyes of the law. Obviously they’re not identical in the eyes of a church (“the church” is a phrase that carries little meaning to my mind unless one’s discussing Catholicism), but that’s not what we’re concerned with here. I’m thinking here of any practical difference between a couple married at church and a couple married in the courthouse, so unless you’re planning to create a whole new category of union especially for gay couples, with different status attached (and why would they accept that?), then the courthouse wedding is what we’re talking about. A couple united down at the courthouse is married in the eyes of the law; that couple typically does not walk around introducing one another as “my civil partner.” They mark “married” on forms with choices of “married, single, widowed, other.” They are married for tax purposes, for purposes of any children born into the relationship, for any other purpose where spousal status is an issue. All the same privileges attend civil union that attend a church wedding; so long as an officiant signs your certificate, your spouse can drive your rental car.

Marriage is where church and state intersect. A pastor performs marriage by the power vested in him or her by the state so that the couple enjoys privileges appended to their status by that sate. Furthermore, if marriage and civil union are different, then that can only mean that the word “marriage” has a unique definition confined to church usage, and therefore has no more business appearing in any constitutional amendment, of any state, than the words “baptism” or “communion,” nor should it have any privileges appended by the state, any more than a baptised person should be able to get a driver’s license sooner than an unbaptised one.

Until people cease talking about these things as though they’re different, we won’t really be talking about the possibilities and consequences of gay couples with legal standing in this country. We’re making a distinction without a difference, and neither side should buy into it.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace