USA Today: Civil unions can protect rights without violating religious roots

Posted by Kendall Harmon

After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2004, more than 20 states rushed to pass constitutional amendments barring the practice. Backers said their initiatives would have no impact beyond marriage. In particular, they disputed the argument that these measures would prevent state and local governments from offering benefits to same-sex partners. As one supporter of Michigan's 2004 initiative told USA TODAY, "This has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman."

Skip forward to 2007. Apparently it does have something to do with taking benefits away. In February, a Michigan court ruled that the state's amendment bars public employers from offering health coverage and other benefits to unmarried partners, gay or straight.

Similar moves to revoke domestic-partner benefits are afoot in other states. Kentucky's attorney general recently decided that the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville could not offer such benefits. A lawsuit is pending in Ohio over Miami University's benefits.

These developments expose the disingenuous arguments that surrounded many of the ballot measures. They also underscore the usefulness of civil unions as a middle ground in states that want to reserve the unique status of marriage for heterosexual couples. Civil unions don't carry the religious and cultural significance of traditional marriage, but they can protect gay couples from those who would use marriage laws to deny them benefits.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesSexuality--Civil Unions & Partnerships

Posted June 26, 2007 at 6:33 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. robroy wrote:

” States that prevent public employers from offering benefits to unmarried couples are hurting themselves.” It is incumbent for a society to look to the future. Societies then grant benefits with this is mind. Do we, as society, wish to encourage marriage and family? We may simply look to Europe and ask is this what we want for our country? France nearly elected a candidate who was in a unmarried relationship and mothered children in that relationship. Is this the kind of relationship that we want to hold up for others to emulate? Marriage is on the ropes in this country. It is dead in Europe, carrying no more benefits than the non-married state. And the consequences of such societal experiment? Rates of procreation below 2, hence the ineluctable march to the death of these societies. Do we not have eyes to see?

Socialism confuses rights and benefits. Education, health care, marriage, food stamps are benefits, very important benefits but not universally granted.

June 26, 6:54 am | [comment link]
2. robroy wrote:

See Peter Sprig’s commentary (which I had not seen prior to the above posting).

June 26, 9:22 am | [comment link]
3. alaninlondon wrote:

Robroy - Please don’t devalue your arguments by exaggeration.  I can assure you that marriage is not dead in Europe - certainly not here in the UK!  Also, I find the implication of your argument very odd, namely that the institution of marriage depends somehow on non-married couples not receiving the same tax breaks and pension entitlements.  Does their doing so somehow invalidate marriage?  I thought most posters on this blog would see marriage as a divine institution - so whatever the state does is ultimately irrelevant as to what constitutes a marriage in the eyes of a Christian.  In giving same or similar benefits to same sex couples or unmarrieds the State is addressing issues of fairness and justice.  Certainly questions of fairness and justice should be weighed carefully but, I would argue, in the complex and diverse societies of today they cannot be ignored totally in favour of marriage alone.

June 26, 10:27 am | [comment link]
4. Bob from Boone wrote:

I agree, #3. It was clear when many of these “marriage” amendments were drafted that the language was intended to bar benefits from any couples not living in a hetersexual marriage. Now the effects are becoming increasingly clear.

We have another example of the people of a state through the constitutional amendment process trying to legislate morality, this time by denying important benefits (healthcare, child support, etc.). I doubt it will keep couples from living in a long-term cohabitation, whether hetero- or homo-. This kind of punitive measure never works in the long run and only brings harm to the body politic. I wonder if many (if not most) voters realized the implications of these amendments when they joined the stampede to vote for them.

It may take a while for new initiatives to repair the damage in state that have rushed to put these measures into effect. It will be interesting to see how it goes. We may have to wait for a later generation to say, “Huh? Let’s change this!”

June 26, 10:41 am | [comment link]
5. Br. Michael wrote:

Bob, the state legislates morality all the time.

June 26, 2:37 pm | [comment link]
6. Bob from Boone wrote:

Yes, Bro. Michael, like prohibition.

June 26, 11:27 pm | [comment link]
7. robroy wrote:

Facts about marriage in Britain:
- The percentage of births outside marriage continues to rise. In 2004, 42.2 per cent of births were outside marriage, up from 41.4 in 2003 compared with one in eight in 1980. 26% of children (2.3 million) currently live in lone parent households, compared with 15% in 1986. Figures for 2006 show 250,000 more one-parent families than in 1997.
- One in four single women aged 18 - 49 are living with a man to whom they are not married.
- In 2004, more than 500 legally induced abortions were carried out in England and Wales EVERY DAY - a total of 185,400. (82% were funded by the NHS).
-  Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe. In 2002 legally induced abortions were carried out on 3,514 girls aged 15 or under (nearly 1,000 were aged 14 or younger).

Perhaps you ascribe to Katherine Jefferts Schori notions of health.

At least your candidates for national office are not cohabitating, though.

Societies ought to have policies that encourage their survival not encouraging their demise.

June 27, 12:42 am | [comment link]
8. Bob from Boone wrote:

A follow up: I recall that great libertarian senator, Barry Goldwater, once saying that “you can’t legislate morality.” Of course, legislatures seek to do so all the time through statute and constitutional amendment. Some laws, e.g., against murder, rape and child molestation are universally accepted, but others create divisions of conscience and practice, as did the constitutional amendment against alcoholic beverages; the latter brought widespread violation and led through smuggling and illegal manufacture to the strengthening of the Mafia, and was eventually repealed. State laws against heter- or homo- cohabitation or civil union do no good for marriage (which I personally always define as a hetersexual union) and bring only discrimination and actual harm against such couples and their children. Such laws are punitive for no good purpose (as was Prohibition) and they will not stop the practices.

There are many good things that can be done, including some by statute, that could support and strengthen marriage in this country. These constitutional prohibitions are not one of them.

June 27, 8:01 am | [comment link]
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