Paper or plastic, marriage or civil union?

This article can also be seen on The New Gay, one of my favorite blogs. Movin’ on up, y’all!

My borderline obsessive monitoring of the media (or as much as I can conglomerate from sources on the Internet) has brought me to the conclusion that people who oppose gay marriage can be broken down into two basic categories: A) Those who have some kind of misguided moral disagreement with homosexuality as a “lifetstyle choice” and, B) People who have placed in the traditional institution of marriage a tremendous amount of symbolic and emotional value. 

I won’t address the first group in this post, because I’d rather not use my valuable finger muscles to dignify their ignorance.  Most of these people are simply buying into whatever their religious leaders or peers have told them, and they blindly follow them into believing that gay people in general are evil.  The second group of people, however, provokes both my confusion and empathy in equal amounts. On a personal note, I really don’t buy into all the fuss with weddings.  Then again, I’ve never really been one for symbolic rituals: I didn’t even participate in my school’s commencement ceremony, only rarely celebrate my own birthday with more gusto than knocking back one or two more drinks than I would on any other day, and honestly have no particular intention of planning a wedding when/if I marry my boyfriend.

But weddings, and marriage, as an institution are unquestionably important.  The union of two people as professed in a public ritual of mutual love and commitment exists in almost every culture across the globe in some form, and is a significant milestone in many peoples’ lives.  I know this sounds like a lot of the rhetoric we hear from the opposition that is used as a rationale for barring gays from equal marriage rights, but I say this only to underscore the idea that straight people might be on to something when they express anxiety over what they perceive as the redefinition of marriage as they know it.

Personally, I can come up with no response to said argument other than the separation of church and state.  The government has no practical interest in wedding cakes and bridesmaids.  It’s only interest in this issue is facilitating a social contract between two people.  As such, the government has no place issuing civil documents with the word “marriage” – a sometimes religious, and usually symbolic act – written on it. The documents should be called “civil unions” and should confer equal rights upon both of the holders of the contract. 

Suppose tomorrow morning we woke up and everyone had equal opportunity for marriage rights.  What would happen to the “marriage licenses” of heterosexual couples that were issued today? Would they be required to go to the county recorder’s office and exchange their marriage licenses for civil unions? I really don’t think they should be expected to do that.  Equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians don’t preclude fairness for heterosexual couples.  As citizens, they have a stake in this as well.  They hold their marriages close to their heart – and rightfully so!

So why not make both a “civil union” document and a “marriage license” document available?

Many folks simply cite Brown v. Board of Education, and breathlessly claim that issuing civil unions, even though they come with the same rights as marriages, are “separate but equal” and, therefore, inherently unequal.  But if you do your research, Brown v. Board of Education found that segregating black and white students into different schools was inherently unequal because the facilities were inherently unequal.  In the same way that two houses on a city block have certain characteristics that make one property better than the other – a particularly large backyard, for example, for a nice wrap-around porch.  The constitutional principle in Brown v. Board of Education applies to the gay marriage debate only if you’re considering issuing civil unions without the same rights that a marriage license would grant.

If two men want to get a “marriage license”, then let them have a marriage license, already!  If two women want to get a “civil union”, then let them have the piece of paper! Nothing is “redefined”, and everyone’s happy! If someone can point out how this might not be the simplest solution to the problem, please let me know, because Google Reader certainly hasn’t given me any answers so far.

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