Dec 21, 2006

New Jersey Takes a Progressive Step in Legalizing Same-sex Unions

Marriage Meant Different Things in the Good Ol' Days--when Women were Considered Chattel

As expected, Gov. Corzine signed a law legalizing civil unions. New Jersey now joins Connecticut and Vermont as states that provide equal treatment for all of their citizens under the law. This is a great step forward, even though it shies away from calling a civil union by its true name, marriage! Of course, language is important, so I hope that the commission--which will be formed to study the effects & application of the new law--will find that the the words marriage, spouse, parents, should be extended to same-sex couples as well, and that the NJ Legislature will follow suit.

Several years ago when this issue first surfaced, I was of the opinion that winning the actual rights of marriage should be the primary aim; the language would follow as a de facto once full, equal rights were won. This is a socially conservative country, more so than other advanced countries. Even very Catholic Spain, for example, has recognized same-sex marriage. But, in the US, there's a totally different story. This is a very emotional issue for many Americans, so no argument solely based on reason can win the day. Yet, if certain language were to be put on hold until specific legal rights were to be won, I'd say this would be the way to go. Language would be easier to adjust once there would be a legal basis for it. I understand that the wrong language may create confusion and a re-creation of the "seperate but equal" status, but I believe it's easier to push for the same legal rights first without being distracted or delayed because of language. I don't see it as an "either-or" issue, I'm just thinking how to best achieve the same goal of total equality. Obtaining equal rights is essential and the strong foundation on which to built a greater understanding and acceptance by the community at large.

During a course I taught last semester, some of
my students conducted interviews--primarily in Westchester, NY--about this issue, and a pattern emerged: the word marriage triggered emotional responses in rejecting it as an option for homosexual couples, while the civil unions term was more acceptable. "My marriage will be worthless if gays are allowed to marry," was a response shared by many older interviewees. This emotional response is not ..rational. Others' actions shouldn't invalidate what you do, but that's beside the point. Popular support is important in moving the country forward. Although most Americans oppose giving the full benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, the good news is that those under 30 are overwhelmingly in favor! Westchester County, for those of you not familiar with it, is a northern suburb of New York City, very affluent and treads Republican, but most conservatives in the Northeast would be considered very moderate (and unacceptable) in the very conservative states where Republicans rule today.

In the US there are several states that have passed or are in the process of passing constitutional amendments explicitly prohibiting marriage, civil unions, and spousal benefits for same-sex couples. Unless the (conservative) Supreme Court finds otherwise (very doubtful), marriage will remain in the realm of the states. I hope that more states join Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont in giving long-awaited and rightful legal recognition to all citizens. This will demonstrate that doing so is not a threat to society. As a matter of fact, marriage has fared better in Massachusetts where there are fewer out-of-wedlock births, lower teenage abortion rates, and the lowest divorce rate in the country!

Now that the veep's daughter, Mary Cheney, is pregnant, will the socially conservatives realize that love is a good thing? Gays and lesbians are capable of loving just like anybody else. Mary Cheney has been with her lesbian partner for 15 years--much longer than many heterosexual couples--and their child will benefit from a loving relationship between his/her parents! I can't think of a good reason why Mary's partner shouldn't be recognized as a parent, and a legal spouse with all the rights and benefits the rest of us enjoy.


anna said...

thanks for the heads up! We do need to update the language to reflect reality, but getting all the legal rights is more important right now.

I agree that legalizing same-sex unions (or whatever you call it) will show that the world keeps on going just fine.

Of course, many people will never change their small minds!

kelly said...

Andros, you should have noted "click image to enlarge"... because this cut-out from the Good Housekeeping mag is a gem!

It's worth reading old publications to see the attitudes of the past. Yes, not so long ago, women were second class citizens too!

anderson said...

I think in 25-50 years we'll look back and scratch our heads as to why there was so much opposition to granting equal rights to all....

much like when we look back and see how we treated the blacks...

Drew said...

I must have been under a rock... I didn't know tricky Dick's daughter was a lesbian! I thought she worked for his campaign.. How can she work to implement an agenda that is based on bigotry and homophobia?

I wonder if anyone has asked Dick and Bushy whether Mary's lesbian partner should be granted parental rights.... and, whether they can be recognized as family!

Sampson the celibate said...

Yeah, why don't we go to the old good times? And, while at it, why not implement some Biblical justice?

Don't the theocons tell us that we need more Biblical morality in our society?

Persy said...

We should can those civil unions "marriage" because that's what they are! However, I see your point. Once we get many (most?) states to pass "civil-union" laws that give EQUAL rights to same-sex couples, then it'd be much easier to ask the state legislatures to change the name. It will be easier to show that "seperate but equal" isn't right, and that no harm has been done by passing this progressive legislation.

PS> I enjoyed the GH article. Things changed within a generation or two.

Anonymous said...

and marrying for love is a relatively new phenomenon too!

people got married for other reasons of necessity than love... let's not forget that.... (not that it doesn't happen today, to marry for money, status,etc)