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Why the word “marriage” matters

Timothy Kincaid

January 29th, 2011

Many people – and I used to be one of them – believe that domestic partnerships are an adequate response to the needs of same-sex couples and that our battle over the word “marriage” is a distraction, an unnecessary obstacle that alienates potential supporters and does not take the feeling of others into consideration. I have grown beyond that position, and now see that our goal of marriage is an essential one, for a number of reasons.

First, I understand that at this point in our progress, the selection of domestic partnerships or civil unions rather than marriage is specifically designed to make a statement that same-sex unions are inferior. As the language in one of Hawaii’s proposed civil unions bills puts it:

The legislature also acknowledges the traditional and special role of marriage in our society and seeks to protect it by establishing a new and separate status for these other loving and committed relationships. In order to both respect traditional marriage and provide equity to other couples, it is the intent of the legislature to recognize civil unions in Hawaii.

Secondly, I have serious doubts about the ability of a secondary, lesser-status institution to consistently provide equal access, services, or application of law. Separate but equal has seldom proven in history to be nearly as equal as it was separate.

Third, I believe that same-sex couples are entitled to the social and societal connotations that come with the word, customs, and traditions of marriage and that this are in the best interest of society. I believe that calling our unions something else can reduce important social expectations both on the part of those in the couple and the demands that the community place on married couples.

From many first hand reports, it seems that marriage changes people in ways that civil unions or domestic partnerships have not yet fully accomplished. “I’m married now,” seems to have a great deal of internal meaning.

But perhaps the most obvious reasons for eliminating the hodge-podge patchwork of nomenclatures created to make sure that same-sex couples aren’t really married, is that they are confusing. No one knows what they mean.

By my counting, same-sex couples are currently recognized by means of marriage, common-law marriage, civil union, civil partnership, domestic partnership with full equality, limited domestic partnership, registered partnership, unregistered partnership, life partnership, PACS, law of same-sex relationship, reciprocal benefits, itemized specific rights, and (most frequently) not at all. It’s no wonder that it is confusing.

And I’m not just talking about your Aunt Matilda who gets the newspaper so she can play WordSearch. The Republic of Ireland has no idea what rights or privileges are granted by what scheme.

This year Ireland, as part of it’s new civil partnerships law, decided to recognize marriages – and similar institutions – from other nations as civil partnerships within its borders. And so, with Statutory Instrument 649, Dermot Ahern, Minister for Justice and Law Reform, announced which other nations and states would have their forms recognized:

Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Mexico City, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Also, from the United States, Ireland will recognize California (marriages only), Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington D.C.

What is missing? Domestic Partnerships in California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada which offer every right, privilege, obligation and duty of marriage, but with another name.

Ireland picked up New Jersey’s civil unions, but they simply had no idea what a “domestic partnership” might be. They also missed civil unions from Andora, Uruguay, and Equador along with Luxembourg’s civil partnerships.

But they didn’t miss any countries that recognize marriage. There’s no confusion there.

Comments

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Timothy Kincaid
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

NOTE: I’ve slightly revised the above commentary to make clear that Ireland only recognizes civil partnerships and that any other country’s arrangements are considered as such within Ireland.

Lindoro Almaviva
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

The legislature also acknowledges the traditional and special role of marriage in our society and seeks to protect it by establishing a new and separate status for these other loving and committed relationships.

Could they have made it any easier for the courts to stuck down this law? If this is not an acknowledgment of Separate but Equal then what is it? I love it how legislatures allover the country are just giving the courts ammunition to make full marriage rights a possibility within our lifetimes. I just want to see the faces of those who sought to keep us in a separate table and yet professed their love for us while doing so. I just want to see their faces when all these laws are deemed unconstitutional.

Timothy Kincaid
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

FYI,

The above Hawaiian bill has not been voted on and the less-wordy version (without the offensive “protect” language) seems likely to pass instead.

Other Fred in the UK
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

You make a good point that the Republic of Ireland recognises ‘marriages’ from around the world, though the legal rights and responsibilities vary significantly, so long as the official word translates into English as ‘marriage’ then the Republic with recognise them. However where a different name is used then recognition is very hit-and-miss even where the two institutions are practically indistinguishable.

Timothy (TRiG)
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

Now that is an excellent point.

TRiG.

Mihangel apYrs
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

FYI

Ireland (like the UK) recognises ssm but regrades them as “civil partnerships”. These ostensibly are identical to marriage but they haven’t been tested to distruction – they do differ on pension rights for instance.

Timothy (TRiG)
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

No. Our civil partnerships in Ireland are considerably less than marriage. The ones in the UK have only cosmetic differences to marriage, but ours aren’t nearly as good. For one thing, there is no protection of the children of same-sex relationships.

TRiG.

Jerry
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

For all who think it’s just about the benefits and not the whole social system, I propose we suggest that we should only be protecting the marriage of one man and one woman. If that couple divorces and wants to hook up again with other partners we should allow it but label it for what it is, in the eyes of the church, an adultery union. Let them understand that it’s nothing more than legalized prostitution.

When I have pointed that out to str8 couples who are my friends and some are on those serial monogamy marriages, they have changed their minds about allowing gays to have civil marriages.

Erin
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46jccPGRmIg

Donnchadh
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

My preferred solution would be to eliminate “marriage” from anything the government recognises and have it replaced with some arrangement by which a household can be considered a single taxpayer and the adults all share power of attorney. Leave marriage for individuals and private associations. As it is, we risk resolving the issue of gay marriage only to have to go through the whole thing again with polygamy.

Tony P
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

You know the multitude of names for LGBT unions is part of the old scheme of divide and conquer!

Erin
January 29th, 2011 | LINK

Donnchadh, save your crap. Gay marriage is not a slippery slope to polygamy, and government-free marriage is a ridiculous, non-practical idea that tries to take away hard worked for protections against discrimination in an underhanded way.

Throbert McGee
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Ireland picked up New Jersey’s civil unions, but they simply had no idea what a “domestic partnership” might be.

Well, apparently the Irish do have some inkling what a “domestic partnership” is, since they recognized Registrované partnerství from the Czech Republic, and Germany’s Eingetragene
lebenspartnerschaft
. (The latter means something like “Registered livingpartnership” — though I’m not sure whether the lebens- part more closely implies “co-habitation” or “lifelong” in this context.)

But anyway, the fact that these relationships are recognized (and also that “civil unions” from the UK and NJ were recognized, but not “civil unions” from Uruguay and Ecuador) suggests to me that nomenclature was perhaps not the sticking point here — could the problem have been merely a lack of timely communication between gay rights groups from Uruguay and the Irish government? (Meaning that the omission of Uruguay was purely an oversight, and not deliberate. I suppose we may have to wait until an Irish-Uruguayan gay couple comes forth as a test case.)

And on a similar note, would the Irish change their stance if directly challenged by couples with DPs from California or Nevada, or would they insist on not recognizing DPs?

Donnchadh
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Yes, there is most likely no slippery slope, and that is the problem: the whole debacle will have to start again over polygamous marriage when its time comes. Better to take this opportunity to resolve the whole matter for good.
Government-recognised marriage is an underhanded form of discrimination, since by definition married couples are treated differently by the law. If you believe that marriage confers protections, why should they be denied to other couples?

Throbert McGee
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Incidentally, I was poking around on Wikipedia and noticed that the UK, unlike Ireland, does recognize French “PACS” as well as “Domestic Partnerships” from such US states as Maine and California, along with the former “Staðfest samvist” (“Confirmed Cohabitation”) of Iceland. Although that last category has now been superseded by the establishment of gender-neutral marriage law in Iceland, for several years the UK government was willing to treat “Confirmed Cohabitation” from Iceland as having the same legal force as British “Civil Partnerships,” the terminological difference notwithstanding.

So, while the word marriage may indeed matter in some contexts, the specific issue of “international portability” simply isn’t a very good reason to disparage Domestic Partnerships or Civil Unions as somehow inferior to Marriage.

Regan DuCasse
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

To Jerry’s point: no hetero person can argue that gay people SHOULD accept, what heteros never would themselves.
Regardless of what a person’s religious belief is, it challenges them on being consistent in that belief. There are, after all, directives regarding equal treatment in nearly every culture’s standard of religion.

But what our own society and culture refuses to REMEMBER is that current marriage requirements are actually VERY simple.
There are four basic ones. Even though the benefits conferred on the marry number in the thousands, who qualifies to marry is something anyone could understand.

Gay couples meet those same basic requirements and must, as it happens.
A married couple, is married WHEREVER they are in the world. Their physical geography doesn’t matter. Each state and country WILL recognize their relationship.

The zeal to create new, impossible or standards not required of anyone else, destroys all credibility and simplification of what anyone understands marriage to be. All legal challenges in America, individually or taken together, are not legal nor grounds for discrimination ANYWHERE.

For example, it’s not legal to deny marriage to couples who don’t, can’t or intend to have children.

However, this is the constant meme of the anti equality and anti gay.

The governments of any country or state, understand what marriage is. It is simple and can be understood.

Anything less, or called something else, inevitably is complicated, cannot be and isn’t enforced or understood ANYWHERE by ANYONE.
And usually, the lower denominator of maintaining DISCRIMINATION against gay people, regardless of whatever OTHER legal arrangement is forced on them, isn’t recognized or respected by other states or countries.
Indeed, other states go out of their way to NOT have to do so.
But marriage requires all states and other countries to do so.

And so far, every rationalization to change up the standards of marriage, even where gay couples meet those standards the SAME as op sex couples, are making states spend a lot of time and money on discrimination, rather than more pressing issues.

They are the ones bringing this on themselves, and making things exceptionally difficult where and when they shouldn’t have to be.

And in the meantime, the value of marriage and it’s popularity or endurance in the culture isn’t compromised and can’t be by people who don’t and aren’t allowed to marry.

There is WAY too much onus on gay people to make or break the standard of marriage or the laws of it, while the anti gay make a mess of the entire issue and accomplish absolutely NOTHING when it comes to what the definition of saving marriage is or what is a threat to it.

Timothy Kincaid
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Throbert,

Yes, it is quite likely that Ireland would recognize Nevada’s domestic partnerships, for example, once made aware of the extent to which it mirrors marriage.

Which is exactly my point. The word “marriage” is essential in that it is clear and globally understood. No explanation required.

For this reason (along with the others listed above) domestic partnerships and civil unions and all other “we won’t let you call it marriage” arrangements are inherently inferior to full equality. They are often a reason for celebration as a step in the right direction – and I do celebrate them – but “not marriage,” by definition, can never be the same as “marriage”.

Mihangel apYrs
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Throbert McGee
the UK courts have ruled that foreign ssm are to be considered “civil partnerships” since all “married rights accrue.

I imagine Ireland will follow the same course

Mihangel apYrs
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Donnchadh

nowadays “marriage” (and I wish I could) is a legal concept that entails a declaration of mutual support and responsibility. It can reduce certain social security benefits (in the UK), such as unemployment benefit.

We know other relationships exist, but unless they enter into a legally recognisable relationship how do we know what the relationship is to be seen as?

Helen in Ireland
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

Well, our government fell apart during the last ten days, so any amendment to Minister Ahern’s S.I. 649 will need to be made by the next government – Dail Eireann dissolves on Tuesday for a general election later this month.

The Irish Marriage Equality group website is http://www.marriagequality.ie/

If you forward this article to them, they will follow up on it.

Erin
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

There is no threat of a polygamous marriage debate coneected to gay marriage. You admit it’s not a slippery slope, then make an assertion that it is. Unlike same-sex marriage there are actual legal arguments for limiting everyone to one spouse. The 2 types of relationships are nothing alike, and giving same-sex couples the same opportunity to a legally-recognized marital relationship with one spouse that straights get is not at all like letting people have unlimited legal spouses, which creates problems for taxation, legal and medical decision-making, default next of kin for survivor benefits, and so on and so forth. I’m really tired of this govt-free marriage argument being posted all over every article or blog about gay marriage. Visit the websites of people who advocate it. They want employers and other entities to have the legal right to scoff at any marriage they “disagree with”, potentially harming other types of marriages, not just gay ones. They want to take away the strides that have been made by not just same-sex couples, but interracial couples, and even married couples that don’t fit a certain faith. What good is a marriage if anyone can disregard it? There is discrimination, and the assertion that abolishing all secular, govt marriage is the only way to fix the problem is disingenuous. Religious rites are already separate and free to be discriminatory. The solution to get rid of discrimination is to give LGBT people an equal opportunity at marriage.

ZRAinSWVA
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

I am married. Period. After 23 years of ‘dating’. And marriage is important! It’s what I’ve always striven (and been told) to achieve…and I’m happy to do so!

Our bank accounts, house title and car titles are all a merry mess.

Our banker, a very liberal women (in Virginia!), doesn’t care. Merge accounts? Sure. Tie accounts together? Okay. Share a bank box? What’s the question.

Really, what is the question?

WHAT is the problem?

Jim
January 30th, 2011 | LINK

It has to be marriage. All the rest is just playing house. My husband and I maintain separate households – because of where we work. Our state only allows domestic partnership – and that requires proof of cohabitation. That is not required, of course, for hetero marriage. CU, DP, = BS.

Noelle
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

Great to see you writing about Ireland Timothy, however there is alot of confusion in this article. Many same-sex Civil Marriages, Partnerships and Unions will be recognised now in Ireland but they will ALL be downgraded to our civil partnership which gives equality in terms of tax, pension, inheritance rights etc but does not recognise gay families or our children. It does not allow the non biological parent to adopt a child and it refuses to use the word family in any of the language. This Act is a second-class system of relationship recognition and many in the Irish LGBT community are not satisfied with this and will continue to fight full full civil marriage rights…and thus for the full rights of all Civil Marriages/Unions from other countries as well.

Please have a look at our group LGBT Noise for more information http://www.lgbtnoise.ie Our latest booklet on Civil Partnership versus Civil Marriage is here:
http://lgbtnoise.ie/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/noise4pg-150x150mm.pdf

Keep up the great work!
N

Mortanius
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

So my question is this. When we talk about “Civil Unions” or “Domestic Partnership”, why are the LGBT community the first ones to call it “inferior”, “lesser”, as if it is intened to be subservient to the “marriage” of heterosexuals. If you want to be lesser than your heterosexual counterparts, by all means, continue to give them power over your lives by ASSuming that CU or DP are inferior to their Marriage. I liken CU and DP to an evolution of “marriage” which is better, more “civil” than what the hetero’s have done with ‘marriage’.
If half of the gay people would stop allowing the hets to have power over them by self-defeating themselves out of the gate, we’d have much better lives. Turn it around, “Our union is civil between two loving people, I wouldn’t want that old worn out title ‘marriage’ attached to my relationship and the negative associations see with ‘marraige’. Let the heteros have their ‘marriage’, Let us be civil and evolve what a union of loving couples is meant to be.

Paul Mc
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

Uk Civil Partnships very closely mirror marriage with a couple of cosmetic differences and what IMO are improvements over marriage. Likewise, UK has a full faith type of clause so even if not listed, any ss relationship with official recognition overseas will be recognised as Civil Partnership as follows.

In other words, ‘if it looks like a marriage and walks like a marriage then it’s a marriage’. This gets round the need to keep updating the Act.

If an overseas relationship is not listed in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, it must meet extra conditions in addition to the conditions that all overseas relationships have to meet. The extra conditions are that, under the law of the country or territory where the couple registered their overseas relationship:-

* they could not enter into the relationship if either of them was already in that kind of relationship or was lawfully married; and
* the relationship is not limited to any particular length of time; and
* the effect of entering into the relationship is that the couple are treated as a couple in general or for particular purposes, or they are treated as married.

Throbert McGee
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

When we talk about “Civil Unions” or “Domestic Partnership”, why are the LGBT community the first ones to call it “inferior”, “lesser”

Because that’s the fashionable opinion to hold.

Priya Lynn
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

Mortanius, there’s a reason why anti-gays fight tooth and nail to deprive gays and lesbians of the word marriage. You can continue with your pollyanna attitude towards the name but to the vast, vast majority of people a union called a marriage is superior to a union called anything else. And in fact apart from the name, marriages ARE superior to any other type of union.

Throbert McGee
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

In a country where at least 8 out of 10 people are Christian, are “mosques” and “synagogues” inferior to “churches”?

Priya Lynn
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

To the Christians they are. And if a person was seeking the same rights as christians they would be as well.

Darina
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

So the Irish Republic missed Slovenia (registered partnership).

TonyJazz
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

One way to move the bar (to lower the percentage of US population opposed) towards gay marriage is to always rephrase it ‘civil marriage’. It removes the religious implications, and it is just as legitimate as a cause.

Call it ‘civil marriage’ and people see it as a government construct with the associated appropriate benefits.

Regan DuCasse
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

As I recall…Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was married a short time ago. She and her husband live in separate cities. Their’s is a long distance marriage, and without any children.

According to NOM and others, it’s not a ‘real’ marriage, if compared to ANY relationship that gay people have. But by their standards, is a useless illegitimate marriage because no children are there. And likely won’t because of the ages of the couple and assumed infrequency of their sex lives.

According to NOM, Giffords and Kelly don’t even deserve to marry, and should be discriminated against.

That’s what I mean by the constant and infuriating inconsistency of the anti gay, compared with the consistency of what marriage is and means. Not only to a state, but an individual couple.

This couple were conferred every respect for their union, given every accommodation in their crisis and as one was incapacitated, Kelly was accorded every decision for his spouse.
Although they don’t even live together.

Apparently EQUAL TREATMENT in the eyes of the anti gay, is defined by their individual contempt, even if heteros meet the same criteria for their contempt.
They simply choose not to act AGAINST straight people…and we all know why.

The cowardice of the anti gay, let alone their lack of consistency…seems to have no bounds.

Timothy Kincaid
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

In a country where at least 8 out of 10 people are Christian, are “mosques” and “synagogues” inferior to “churches”?

This is a bogus argument

Any synagogue may call itself a church or a mosque or a cantaloupe if it so wishes. For that matter, many Christian meeting houses are called “chapels” or “temples”.

There are no distinctions under the state between any of these – no separate laws, no separate nomenclature, no separate process. The Angelus Temple and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple are indistinguishable in the eyes of the state.

But were one to be registered in one form and the other be given some other procedure in order to “protect the traditional definition of ‘church’,” then yes, one would have an inferior status.

To the Christians they are. And if a person was seeking the same rights as christians they would be as well.

You never miss an opportunity to throw in an anti-Christian attack, do you? Kinda like the Peter LaBarbera of antiChristians, aren’t you.

No one has to “seek the same rights as Christians.” They all have the same rights.

Priya Lynn
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

Timothy, you see anti-christian attacks where there are none. What I’m saying is that if the government passed a law saying some christians weren’t allowed to attend churches, only synagogues or mosques, precious few of those christians would find that to be just as good or superior to allowing them to attend churches.

Timothy Kincaid
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

my apologies if your comment was not intending to suggest that to the Christians, mosques and synagogues are inferior and that a person seeking the same rights as christians is inferior as well.

Priya Lynn
January 31st, 2011 | LINK

Thankyou. No I wasn’t trying to say that but I acknowledge I didn’t explain myself fully in that first comment. I was trying to make Throbert’s religion analogy more like the situation with marriage, and it would be if the government said some people were allowed to attend churches and others were not. Those who wanted to attend christian churches but were prevented by law from doing so (I think) would be highly unlikely to think the right to attend a mosque or synagogue instead would be just.

Timothy (TRiG)
February 27th, 2011 | LINK

To the Christians, mosques and synagogues are inferior.

Aren’t they?

TRiG.

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