Why the word “marriage” matters
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.