I wanted to give you a bit of food for thought in regard to something you said in our conversation the other day: that you support civil unions. At one point I did as well, until I made the statement in front of two dear friends of mine in San Francisco. Sean and David had been married during that window in time when same sex marriage was legal in the state.
David and Sean spoke forcefully about civil unions and marriage not being equal, arguing that the term has been coined to avoid the usage of “marriage” which is embedded in civil laws across America. I had to ask myself the question: do we as a society want a distinction- a carve-out if you will- for the loving unions of two people of the same sex as opposed to the loving union of a heterosexual couple?
In the middle of our conversation, David disappeared for a moment and returned with what appeared to be a framed photograph. To the contrary it was his and Sean’s framed marriage certificate issued by the State of California. David broke out in tears as he said to me “do you realize how important it is to us to be able to show this to our friends, to have a piece of paper that recognizes that we’re all equal under the laws of California?”
I couldn’t help but agree. Words matter. There is absolutely no compelling reason for a “separate but equal” definition of any loving union between two people. Today I’d say to you as I do to all: I don’t want a civil union. I want the same civil rights that you and Mary have and I want them defined in the exactly same manner as yours. That is the American way. At the same time I’d man the barricades to protect the right of secular institutions in America to marry whomever they wish according to their beliefs. That is also the American way.
Here are a few eloquent quotes I’d offer for your consideration:
“Marriage in the United States is a civil union; but a civil union, as it has come to be called, is not marriage,” said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry. “It is a proposed hypothetical legal mechanism, since it doesn’t exist in most places, to give some of the protections but also withhold something precious from gay people. There’s no good reason to do that.”
Or consider the logical argument offered by Ted Olson, former US Solicitor General in the George W. Bush administration. During opening statements in the the landmark Perry v. Brown case he argued that recognizing same-sex couples under the term ‘domestic partnership’ stigmatizes gay people’s relationships treating them as if they were “something akin to a commercial venture, not a loving union”.
Thomas if you truly believe in equality for gay people, then there is only marriage. A civil union is a half-baked legal construction which will never satisfy me or my friends Sean and David.