Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Marriage vs. Civil Union

I originally posted this on the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington mailing list on February 12, 2004, where someone asked “Other than the semantics of ‘marriage’ and ‘civil union’, what are the real differences?”  Mildly edited to current blog inclusion…

The difference is that the benefits, rights, and responsibilities of “marriage” are already defined and supported by case law.  “Civil union” is still a largely undefined term.

One of the proposed amendments to the Massachusetts constitution which was discarded in February, 2004 would have disallowed same-sex marriage but permitted civil unions, with the legislature being made to define such, and with the ability of the legislature to revisit that definition periodically.  In theory, the legislature could thus define “civil union” to be nothing at all (or at least nothing of value).

The only acceptable set of benefits, rights, and responsibilities to go into “civil unions” is those which go into “marriage”.  So then you are left with two choices: either say “Civil unions are granted all the benefits, rights, and responsibilities of marriages” or try to specify all of those benefits, rights, and responsibilities in great detail and have to revise that every time a new item comes up (and if you don’t revise, fight a lawsuit for every one of them).

In the end, you are left with either two terms which mean the same thing (in which case, why have two terms?) or one term which is said to be the equivalent of the other but falls short both in some known areas and some unknown areas, in which case it isn’t equivalent, and certainly isn’t equal.

What can you expect to lose?  Clarity, smoothness, and efficiency.  Will civil unions cover hospital visitation?  Inheritance?  Adoption?  Extra Chevron credit cards?  Attending company holiday parties?  Health care?  Corporate travel for spouses?  State income tax?  Federal?  Family seating at your partner’s daughter’s high school graduation?  Each and every benefit, right, or responsibility which is given blindly and unquestioned to married opposite sex couples, you may have to ask for and possibly demand.  You may have to show paperwork or ID cards.  Rules and regulations will have to be considered and rewritten by every company and government organization to include appropriate wording.  On the flip side, “married” means “married”, and all you’ll have to do is sigh every time someone has to do that mental adjustment about your spouse’s gender because they haven’t been hit with it a thousand times just yet.

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