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Marriage Equality

Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution


In a February New York Times op-ed, "family values" activist David Blankenhorn and out journalist Jonathan Rauch jointly proposed a solution to this country's debate over same-sex marriage: federal civil unions that religious groups wouldn't be compelled to honor. Are Blankenhorn and Rauch right? Two opinionators weigh in.

Dan Savage: Now is not the time to cut a deal with haters on the Christian right -- oops, sorry. That was a little scorched-earthy: Now is not the time to forge a compromise with people of faith. As hard as it is to believe after Prop. 8, we're winning. In 2000, California voters banned gay marriage by a 22-point margin. Last year Californians constitutionally banned same-sex marriage by only a four-point margin. Polls show a nationwide shift in favor of marriage equality.

The "conflict down the road" that Blankenhorn wants to head off is, I believe, an internal one: Once gay Americans achieve full civil equality, the "conflict" will be among the religious right over "who lost marriage," much as the GOP is battling now over who lost the Oval Office. That's a conflict I'm looking forward to, so I don't get why Rauch wants to cut a deal now. Religious-conscience exceptions that he and Blankenhorn cite as a model -- "statutes [that] allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions" -- already opened a Pandora's box, with people like pharmacists insisting that they too have a right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs.

On the other hand, in Washington State, where I live with my husband-in-Canada/boyfriend-in-the-U.S. and our 11-year-old son, two gay state legislators -- Ed Murray and Jamie Pedersen-helped pass two domestic-partnership bills, the second more expansive than the first, and are working on a third. The politicians introduced the first DP bill after our state supreme court ruled against same-sex marriage.

Murray and Pedersen's efforts are pragmatic. I could support a similar effort at the federal level -- federal civil unions -- that fell short of full marriage equality. But I wouldn't be able to support federal civil unions if they simultaneously created special rights for religious organizations to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Pam Spaulding: Compromise. It's something the LGBT community is quite used to as we work toward equality. The existence of second-class institutions like domestic partnerships and civil unions is concrete proof of our ability to compromise. Blankenhorn and Rauch's proposal represents a call to end the messy and painful legal and legislative battles occurring around the country, as if the conflicts themselves are problematic. What are they afraid of? They seem more concerned about addressing the discomfort of the religious slice of America unable to accept married same-sex couples. Would Blankenhorn and Rauch have suggested that a new federal civil institution be established to accommodate Americans who opposed interracial marriage? That's certainly what it sounds like.

I would welcome civil unions if I could be certain that when we crossed a state line, my Canadian marriage would remain intact and equivalent to the marriage of a straight couple. But that's a big, juicy "if." The reality is that civil unions and DPs are not seen that way; the gay community knows that, and so do conservatives.

Also, equality opponents have often acted in bad faith. Witness the outrageous lies, such as suggesting same-sex marriage leads directly to man-goat nuptials or incest. Why do Blankenhorn and Rauch seek to coddle this? Besides, religious conservatives, their beliefs already amply protected by law, show no interest in compromise. From trying to save their "right" to fire someone who is LGBT to ending reproductive freedom, Bible-based governance is their worldview. Church and state are not separate; therefore any change to civil law is seen as an assault on religious freedom.

Federal civil unions will not prevent discrimination or legal challenges in many states and may perhaps complicate matters until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the issue. The disingenuous Blankenhorn and Rauch proposal would move the ball forward at a very high cost.

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