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.