Much Ado About Nothing


Who’d have thought “compromise” is such an ugly idea?

During my interview with Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for All Families, I raised the idea of pressing for civil union legislation if same-sex marriage was something that couldn’t pass.  He dismissed the idea completely and asked me to read a study on what a disaster civil unions were in New Jersey.  I read the study to which they referred.  Jake Loesch, the Minnesota United communications director, sent me a link.

I carefully read through the commission’s report and noted their findings.  In this study, from back in 2008, there were stories of health care professionals who didn’t know what civil unions were and comparisons to segregation but what I couldn’t find was a substantive difference between their civil union law and a same-sex marriage law.  What the commission found is we are treated differently because people don’t understand our relationships.  Ignorance doesn’t seem to care what it’s called.

For example, from page one of the ‘Legal, Medical, Economic & Social Consequences of New Jersey’s Civil Union Law’, they report the following:

“So, [Naomi] asked the attending emergency room physician to tell her what was happening with me…. And he said, “who are you?” And she said, “well, I’m her partner.” And he said, “I can’t give you any information, you know, I need her consent.” And I wasn’t in any state of mind to give my consent…. And she had to explain to him what civil unions were. And he wasn’t, you know, quite sure at first. He was reluctant to give my information. He did not understand, and hadn’t heard of civil unions before.”

This is a heart-wrenching account that no one should have to face.  But, the doctor simply didn’t know what their relationship was.  He didn’t want to hand out the woman’s medical condition information to just anyone and we have laws to keep such things confidential.  Clearly the doctor didn’t know what a “civil union” meant but would he have believed her if she said “wife?”  That would seem to have caused the same amount of confusion with this health care professional.

It’s a fascinating study and if you are as nerdy as me, please take the time to read it.  The evidence and findings included show we have a society that doesn’t really understand the nature of our relationships or the tact needed in social situations.  But it didn’t find any substantive differences between civil unions and marriage except intangible ones.  Like the following from page two of the report from a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School:

“Based on research and my years of working with gay people who have experienced stigma or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, I believe that second-class citizenship, now institutionalized in some states in the form of civil unions, contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders in marginalized populations.”

Good heavens.  Can anyone in the GLBT community honestly say they’ve never experienced any stigma or discrimination based on sexual orientation?  Anyone?  Are we really such basket cases using the term “civil unions” will lead us to endless whiskey guzzling and Prozac popping?  Preposterous.

I exaggerate because we all experience major and minor traumas and unfair treatment regardless of what legal recognition of our relationships is called.  It seems a bit dramatic to say having the same benefits and obligations called something different is “second-class citizenship.”  We politically have the same rights we always did as citizens.  Calling our relationships by a different legal term hardly keeps us in the back of a bus or prevents us from eating at whatever lunch counter we’d like.

In fact, civil unions do provide the same protections and responsibilities as same-sex marriage as the study found on page 29.  It isn’t the civil union law that makes a difference in legal situations but the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“Federal DOMA continues to obstruct access to equal financial benefits of marriage for civil union couples, and would continue to do so even if New Jersey were to enact marriage. There are over 1,000 federal rights and benefits of marriage that civil union couples cannot enjoy because of DOMA, which defines marriage for purposes of federal law as the union between one man and one woman.  As noted in the Commission’s first report, DOMA permits employers to discriminate against same-sex couples in the provision of health insurance benefits.”

Regardless of what it’s called, federal law is the culprit and not civil union legislation in New Jersey.  Of course, in Minnesota we don’t have to worry about that.  We have NO recognition of our relationships now and NONE if same-sex marriage doesn’t pass either.

I explored the New Jersey report and other reports as well.  I read the University of California, The Williams Institute model civil union and marriage legislation which can be found here;

Another critique of civil unions can be found at  The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) report reads much like the New Jersey report.  According to them, talking about “civil unions” seems to have a debilitating effect on our relationships and our rights.  I don’t buy it because I can talk about marriage and civil unions just fine without it scarring me too much.

Getting our relationships recognized in Minnesota may mean a little compromise on what it’s called.  Our relationships are real, exist here and now, and deserve to be recognized by the state this year.  As I argued in “What’s in a Name” the device used doesn’t matter.  As I found in this report, there is no substantive difference between these laws.  It is time to think clearly about what can pass.  I hope for same-sex marriage but I prepare in case this doesn’t happen.  That isn’t settling.  That is simply being responsible.


See also:
“The DFL’s Big Gay Farce” from Issue 457, November 29, 2012
“Three of Four Top Elected Minnesota Politicians Comment on the Marriage Debate” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“‘Earnest Money:’ Repeal DOMA Now” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“Why We Can’t Wait” an Interview with Sen. John Marty from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
Waiting for Superman” from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
“Don’t Skip Dessert” an Interview with Rep. Ryan Winkler from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
“What’s In A Name?” A Case for Civil Unions from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
Outreach: Conversation with Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R)” from Issue 462, February 7, 2013
Carrie Chapman Catt’s Winning Plan” from Issue 462, February 7, 2013
“Our Family Albums” from Issue 463, February 21, 2013
Talking Strategy with Richard Carlbom [of Minnesotans United for All Families]” from Issue 463, February 21, 2013
Vanguard” from Issue 464, March 7, 2013
Beating the Clock” from Issue 466, April 4, 2013
Rocky Mountain High” from Issue 467, April 18, 2013
The Elephant in the Room“ from Issue 467, April 18, 2013

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