Beyond same sex marriage

The “I’m against same sex marriage but favor civil unions” position is the major unheralded casualty of the California Supreme Court decision redefining marriage. Politicians from across the political spectrum have taken refuge in this dodge, believing it allows them to navigate the treacherous shoals of powerful but divided public opinion about same sex marriage. The court’s ruling has shown beyond any shadow of a doubt that civil unions are not a stable political or social compromise, however rational and reasonable that position may appear to be. Here is why.

California has had registered domestic partnerships since 1999. In the years since, the state legislature has steadily increased the rights for which registered domestic partners automatically qualify. Hospital visitation was granted that very first year. In 2000, the legislature granted domestic partners the right to make medical decisions for each other, the right to use stepparent adoption procedures to adopt a partner’s child, and the right to sue for a partner’s wrongful death.

In 2002, the legislature gave domestic partners the rights to receive copies of each others’ birth and death certificates. The legislature also changed the inheritance rules for domestic partners who die without a will, mandating that their property be distributed between the surviving partner and any blood relatives on the same terms as married couples. Legislation passed in 2003 required domestic partners to pay alimony and child support.

Thus, registered domestic partnerships have been available in California since 1999, and their status has been continually upgraded. The benefits of domestic partnerships now mirror the benefits of marriage very closely. Yet, that has never been enough. The pressure for the complete redefinition of marriage has continued without missing a beat.

Can we be confident that even same sex marriage is the ultimate goal? I think the honest answer is no. The freight train of same sex marriage will not stop at the station called simple “equality.” The legal equivalence of same sex couples with opposite sex couples means that marriage will no longer be society’s most reliable method of attaching mothers and fathers to their children and to each other. Marriage will become a gender-neutral creation of the state, which actively detaches children from at least one of their parents. Parentage will not flow automatically from the marital union, but will have to be assigned by the state. The final stop on this train is the complete de-gendering of society, along with the continual incursion of the state into civil society.

The state must hold that mothers and fathers are completely interchangeable. Biological parents married to each other become officially equivalent to one parent plus their lover. The state will be indifferent as to whether children have any connection with their biological parents.

The experiences of other countries with same sex marriage illustrate that this is no mere expansion of an existing institution. In Spain, the words “mother” and “father” were removed from birth certificates in favor of “Progenitor A” and “Progenitor B”. Courts in Canada have assigned parental rights to three adults. Similar experiences from Massachusetts and the UK leave no doubt that the state will have to continually intervene to prop up same sex marriage, and the gender-oblivious society that comes along with it. Sexual orientation will be viewed as immutable, with sex itself as a mere social construct.

As Douglas Farrow, a Canadian academic asks in his book, A Nation of Bastards, is this really what we intended to do? 

Gays and lesbians have as much political power in California as in any state in America. If civil unions could have ever been a viable political compromise position, it would have been here. Any candidate who favors civil unions, is really saying that he favors the continual progress of this train toward the destination of same sex marriage, and perhaps even beyond to the ultimate radical goal of a completely non-gendered society.

This ruling gives the electorate the chance to gain genuine clarity from the candidates. The “I oppose same sex marriage, but favor civil unions,” position is the equivalent of “I’m personally opposed to abortion but support your right to have one.” It is a cowardly subterfuge that should no longer fool anyone.

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the author of Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, newly reissued in paperback. 


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