Can Marriage Equality Be Compromised?

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com February 27 2009 1:00 AM ET

The February 21 edition
of
TheNew York Timesfeatured an op-ed

by writers Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn attempting to
forge a compromise on how the federal government should
recognize same-sex unions. They suggest that Congress
acknowledge statewide marriage laws, extending federal civil
union status to marriages and civil
unions that are lawful in specific states, so
long as those states also extend protections to
religious organizations that object, legally exempting any such
organizations from participating in same-sex
unions.

We asked three key
people immersed in different aspects of the marriage-equality
effort to weigh in on Rauch and Blankenhorn's
reconciliation.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry

Although I trust these
writers are sincere, this is a misdirected solution to a phony
problem. In 2006, for example, David Blankenhorn, a
self-proclaimed moderate, participated in a
debate with me on C-SPAN

, and then wrote a whole book regarding his opposition to our
freedom to marry. That opposition had nothing to do with
"religious exemptions" (an odd concept when it comes
to who should be able to marry) or anything in this piece.

The core of the real
opposition we face is not really about marriage -- it's
about gay. The same forces against our freedom to marry are
also against its products, which include civil union and
partnership. We will never give enough ground to appease them,
nor should we. Why take on the burden of inventing and then
selling a second-class, cobbled-together, unworkable new system
with all its headaches and intrinsic and complex flaws
(including this op-ed's dangerous and wholly unnecessary
religious carve-outs and complete withholding of marriage
itself) -- instead of the system that exists, marriage -- just
because gay couples are starting to participate? Why surrender
the moral high ground we are successfully claiming -- with
principle, persuasion, patience, and persistence -- for an
illusory common ground when, as witness the most recent and
vociferous rejection of even civil unions and any such
half-measure by the so-called moderate new chair of the
Republican Party, Michael Steele, this is a nonstarter.

So-called compromises
such as this are just a distraction from the real work at hand
to address the real problem: the need to end the "gay
exception" to marriage and fair treatment of families. We
should not allow opponents to divert us from engaging the
reachable-but-not-yet-reached public in the resonant vocabulary
of marriage, which, after all, is what is moving us forward (as
the creation and greater embrace of civil union itself shows).
Our advocates should stop bargaining against us, and help
engage people on the merits, making the case for why marriage
matters and why equality is the right answer.

NICKY GRIST INSERT RINGS X390 (BILL WADMAN AND GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

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.

JENNY PIZER INSERT RINGS X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COM

Jenny Pizer, National Marriage Project director for Lambda
Legal

We do not think
it's a good compromise at all. The heart of the issue is
that we're talking about civil marriage and the fact that
the government should be treating everyone equally in this
civil institution. They would never suggest that the government
disallow interfaith or interracial marriages -- or people who
remarry after divorce -- just to accommodate some who
oppose such unions on religious grounds.

The government
shouldn't avoid this conflict and "compromise" by
saying that a minority group that has been
discriminated against and excluded for a long time should
continue to be kept out of the system in order to accommodate
the views of people who think this minority shouldn't have
equal rights and should be segregated and subordinated. That
idea is pernicious because of the resistance we face. If
we're talking about the government, talking about the
professional marketplace, there's a lot of areas of life
that are secular. Religious organizations may be welcome to
participate in the public marketplace, but they will have to
participate by the same rules that everyone else has to follow.
It's an enormous problem if we accept the idea that certain
groups don't have to follow civil rights laws or any other
laws.

David Blankenhorn is a
right-wing ideologue who has a particular view that kids should
only be born into man-woman relationships and that society is
going to hell in a handbasket because heterosexual marriages
are failing. Jonathan Rausch made a conservative argument for
marriage. He's not grappling with the core problem that
discrimination really hurts gay people, and it doesn't
matter if there's a religious motive or a secular
motive.

Everyone's entitled
to hold onto their religious beliefs, but governing rules have
to treat everyone as equal. This op-ed seeks to expand
religious exceptions in terms of equality, with respect to the
way that government treats people. The government must not be
discriminating. And the main reason I object to this so
vehemently is that what we saw in the Prop. 8 campaign is the
pack of lies around the idea that marriage equality for gay and
lesbian people necessarily brings attack on churches and
religious leaders and religious institutions, and that's
just not true. Religious figures do not have to perform any
kinds of marriages for any couples they don't want to
marry. They are absolutely legally exempted from doing that,
and they're entitled to teach what they want to teach. But
if they decide that they want to run a group home as a service
of the state, and they decide to take in these kids who are
wards of the state, then that's not a religious ritual. The
fact that they may have a religious reason for wanting to
provide that service is fine, but they still have to follow the
rules. They have to be licensed by the state, and they cannot
discriminate.