December 03, 2009

Should LGBT Activism Turn Its Focus to Civil Unions?

That's the point of this Associated Press story:

Leland Traiman, who runs a sperm bank in California, worries about his lesbian clients in more conservative parts of the country when he hears fellow gay rights activists talk about winning the right to wed.

With 34 states lacking any legal recognition of same-sex relationships, Traiman wonders if all the emphasis on matrimony is misplaced.

"When I speak to women from Florida or Wisconsin or Minnesota, they are like, 'I don't care what it's called, I just want to be able to visit my wife in the hospital and cover my children with my health insurance,'" said Traiman, who helped pass the nation's first domestic partnership law a quarter-century ago in Berkeley.

In the weeks since Maine voters handed the gay marriage movement its 27th electoral defeat in five years, other activists have voiced similar qualms about making marriage their main goal. Gay rights leaders have insisted that anything less than full marriage equality is unacceptable, but some are asking whether the uncompromising strategy has forestalled interim steps that could improve the lives of gay men, lesbians and their families.

"They think the best way to achieve their goal of marriage with all the rights and benefits of marriage is a complete frontal assault, and any other strategy is a betrayal of their goal," Traiman said.

Activists like Traiman point to the success of efforts to extend spousal rights and other civil rights protections to same-sex couples, even as the passage of gay marriage bans grab headlines.

On the same day that Maine rejected a gay marriage law approved by its Legislature, for example, voters in Washington state approved a law giving same-sex couples or straight older couples who register as domestic partners all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage. Washington's so-called "everything but marriage" law passed by the same margin as Maine's gay marriage rebuff, 53 percent to 48 percent.

And earlier this year, Nevada lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Jim Gibbons to enact a domestic partnership law extending marriage rights to couples, gay or straight, who "have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring." Colorado's legislature and governor also adopted a "reciprocal beneficiaries" law providing some legal benefits for all unmarried couples.

Colorado and Nevada are among the 29 states with constitutional prohibitions against gay marriages.

The success of partner measures in those states suggests that there's room for gay couples to secure spousal protections even if they can't marry, said William Dobbs, a veteran activist in New York.

"It's a huge tactical mistake to be arguing that nothing less than marriage will do," Dobbs said. "One size does not fit all.

"There is a real need among some folks to put their lives together, to have joint credit cards, a house and children," he said. "We need a set of actions for that, but the marriage fight is toxic to other types of reforms."

What do you think? We've often heard that civil unions are a second-class substitute for marriage, but is it better to wage a battle that has a greater chance of being won even if the rewards aren't as great?

Click here to read the rest of the story.

1 comment:

  1. As a couple who fought for and won the right to marry in Canada, we strongly disagree with the writer's views. We were asked by the lobby group, EGALE, (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) to participate in the legal challenge, that would give us equal rights with straight couples. We became involved because we hoped and believed that if we were to win, other young gay and lesbian couples would find life a bit easier. We started our case in October of 2001, and by June of 2004 we had the same rights as all other Canadians. The morning we got the news we went through a range of emotions that are impossible to describe. I think the two that come to mind are elation and relief. We won our battle in the courts and I believe that is where our friends in the US will win. There is no way that one group of people should be able to vote on the rights of others. When that is allowed all rights are diminished. Don't ever consider taking second best, or "Marriage Lite" as something that is acceptable, or almost equal. You are more valuable than that. You will win this fight.

    Lloyd and Bob Peacock


    Same-sex marriage challenge
    Vancouver, B.C.