May 14, 2007

Gay Marriage in Connecticut

Arguments are being heard today in a challenge to Connecticut’s marriage laws. Connecticut already has civil unions which provide the state equivalent of marriage to same-sex couples; the laws enacting that new institution in Connecticut were enacted through the democratic process rather than being initiated by the courts.

The real legal problem, of course, is that the bulk of the rights and entitlements that really count for marriage happen at the Federal level. And I rather doubt that this Congress will be willing to revisit the Federal “Defense” Of Marriage Act; its hands are quite full of efforts to line the pockets of the contributors who funded the recent party switch efforts and grandstanding to no positive effect about Iraq.

The case in Connecticut, however, leaves something to be desired in my mind. I’ve stated many times on this page that my own sense of legal equality and the rights for all are satisfied with civil unions. I don’t care if the phrase that gay people get to use to describe their legal relationship is “marriage” or “civil union” or “domestic partnership” or whatever other phrase one cares to come up with. If the substantive rights are the same, and the ease of getting the partners into the legal relationship is substantially similar, to that of marriage, then I think the demands of equal treatment are satisfied.

In Connecticut, the challenge for the plaintiffs today is explaining the difference between “marriage” and a “civil union,” and for the life of me I can’t see what that would be other than semantics. If Connecticut has done all that it can do to give a gay couple entering into a Connecticut civil union the same rights that Connecticut gives to a straight couple getting a Connecticut marriage license, then I just don’t see why the word used to describe this arrangement matters. It looks to me like these plaintiffs in Connecticut who demanded that their state give them equal rights can’t take “yes” for an answer.

Certainly the word “marriage” carries a certain level of social prestige and legitimacy. But that kind of social acceptance being afforded to their relationships is not really something that the state of Connecticut can legislate. It is something that each gay couple will have to earn in the eyes of their friends and neighbors, by being good people and good members of their communities, and having long-lived relationships together. This is not a battle for the courts or the legislature of the states, gay plaintiffs; it is a lifetime challenged to be good to your chosen partner and to let people see your love for and commitment to each other.

I’m all for equality and I have concerned myself more on these pages with this issue than is probably important in the grand scheme of issues facing our country. But it seems to me Connecticut has done all that could be asked of it already. Maybe a Loyal Reader with a different opinion on the issue can educate me as to why the phrase used to describe legally equivalent institutions should matter.

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