Saturday, March 21, 2009

G/L Marriage

(The following are two opinions by bloggers at, reprinted for you for your consideration on the subject of G/L Marriage.)

A Pragmatic Argument for Approaching G/L Marriage By Emma Ruby-Sachs

There is a lot of time and money spent on defining the word marriage. Does it mean family? Procreation? Stability? Commitment? But in a legal sense, marriage is a basket of rights. Some of these rights are pretty mundane (like once you’re married you have the right to require your spouse to refrain from marrying anyone else without first getting a divorce), but others are significant (benefits, tax deductions, property rights etc.).

In the debate about Gay marriage, a lot of attention is paid to civil unions vs. marriage and, while I agree with Jenna that creating inequalities in law – even if the two terms fundamentally stand for the same thing – creates untenable violations of the rights of LGBT people, I am a pragmatist at heart.

In Canada, the fight for same-sex marriage was not won with a grand challenge and call for equality (although that was going on in the background with much help from civil society organizations). The first big Gay marriage win was a case about a woman whose partner, after years of living together, kicked her out of the matrimonial home, changed the locks and unilaterally took her name off their joint business. She went to the courts for the same divorce rights as her straight friends. And won. In that decision, no one mentioned “Gay marriage.”

Meanwhile, groups around the country, especially unions like the Canadian Auto Workers, were fighting for same-sex benefits at private employers. Soon, the courts were forced to determine that under the equality provisions, the word spouse (both common law and married) had to include same-sex couples.

That led to a debate about civil unions and, only after the government had supported a separate but equal regime, was there a decision requiring the same legal term for both straight and same-sex relationships.

What this history tells us is that these little battles that have been playing out in states across the country are important. And the battles we fight everyday to have employers recognize our relationships without a government mandate are also essential.

But no government, not even Obama, will leap into equality without being forced to do so. And while I believe in activism by the courts, maybe we all have to settle for a piecemeal struggle for the rights in the marriage basket. That is what the new DOMA challenge is about.

I am infuriated by calls for separate but equal and am frustrated by the inaction of the current administration. But that part of me that understands politics and history recognizes that rights may have to be won one by one before real equality can be achieved. ...

Is Separate Always Unequal? By James Withers

One of the things that irks in the marriage debate is how some Gay marriage advocates smooth out the edges in black history. In their desire for the grand prize of marriage as opposed to civil unions, people rightfully point to the fight against “separate but equal” (effectively killed by Brown v. Board of Education). All fair really but what is lost in the conversation when we don’t even acknowledge that the debate about “separate but equal” was messier than most realize? And would we change our tactics if we knew the father of the civil rights movement, W.E.B. DuBois, opined that voluntary segregation was no sin?

In David Levering Lewis’ biography, W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, there is the story behind DuBois’ infamous editorial called “Segregation.” Written when DuBois was fighting with the NAACP board (for his whole long life DuBois seemed to be in intellectual warfare with everyone), the essay sent shock waves in the NAACP community and beyond because DuBois seemed to be taking up an argument that was once put forth by his nemesis, Booker T. Washington.

“It must be remembered that in the last quarter of a century, the advance of the colored people has been mainly in the lines where they themselves working by and for themselves, have accomplished the greatest advance.”

Here was the leader of the race, when the phrase actually had meaning, extolling the virtue of segregation.

Why the early morning history lesson? Those who demand marriage rights always say that the benefits of the institution can be conferred with the name and civil unions are at best a poor substitute. But if the rights of marriage are transferred to civil unions, then what’s the problem? By pushing for marriage and marriage only, aren’t we boxing ourselves into a corner and making the fight for equality more complicated than it needs to be? And let’s be honest: vigorous demands for civil unions that match marriage in everything but name will earn a large number of straight doubters and put our enemies on the defensive.

Maybe the debate is over. It’s marriage or nothing, But if we can get marriage minus the word, what’s the problem?

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