Can Marriage Equality Be Compromised?

Three key people immersed in different aspects of the marriage-equality effort weigh in on a New York Times op-ed attempting to forge a compromise on how the federal government handles same-sex unions.




Nicky Grist, executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project

Obviously, this compromise won't satisfy anyone who wants full social equality regardless of sexual orientation. Nor should it satisfy people who prioritize practicalities, such as taxation and access to health care. Marriage-equality campaigns shine a much-needed spotlight on the injustices caused by treating married and unmarried relationships differently. But it is wrong to think that same-sex marriage or civil union will solve these problems.

Let's assume that, after an initial rush of civil unions fulfill the pent-up demand among same-sex couples, the rate of union and divorce becomes the same for all couples regardless of gender (for ease, let's use the verb "union" to include all government-certified civil unions and marriages). Eventually, there will still be about as many un-unioned as unioned households in the United States, there will still be over 90 million un-unioned adults, and about one or two in every 10 un-unioned individuals will still be cohabiting with an intimate partner with whom, for a variety of reasons, they haven't unioned.

At that point, will it be any more fair that unioning raises or lowers your taxes? Will it be OK that people must union or divorce, or can't union, in order to get affordable health care? Will any more people exercise their rights around medical decision-making? Will there be any fewer green-card unions? Will judges know how to help un-unioned families divide their property after a breakup? Will caretakers who aren't unioned to their dependents get any relief? Will surviving dependents have any more access to benefits if they weren't unioned to their deceased providers? Will health clubs, travel agents, and employers stop basing rates and rewards on union status? Will parents let un-unioned partners share bedrooms?

No. This compromise should not satisfy anyone who is looking forward to the end of discrimination on the basis of marital or relationship status.