Democrats & Liberals Archives

Civil Unions: the new separate but equal?

Last week I spent a great deal of time mulling the legislative process when it comes to civil unions for gays and lesbians in my state. I’m a strong and vociferous advocate for equal rights. Perhaps it’s my overdeveloped sense of justice, but I don’t understand the need by some in society keep others down or as lessors.

It's been explained to me why so many people are squirmy when it comes to "marriage" for homosexuals. Marriage is considered an institution of religion. Organized religion in general tends to frown on homosexuality, at least in western society.

My response to this argument is "so what"? Organized religion has historically embraced slavery and the subjugation of women. We've overcome these tenets of religious bonding in the past. Sanctioned homosexual unions are the next rung of the societal ladder.

If the foundation of society is building families (as I heard Rick Santorum blather to Katie Couric this morning on The Today Show) then it is incumbent upon us as a society to open every opportunity for all people to do so.

It occurs to me that keeping homosexuals from marrying is a way to keep them down. Somebody has to be the top dog in the civilization food chain. It's inconvenient and uncomfortable for those at the top of the chain to be dislodged. There's wealth and power to be had at the top of the chain. If an entire segment of society has a foot firmly planted across their collective necks it's highly unlikely that many will squirm free to disrupt the societal heirarchy.

After speaking on the phone last Friday to my state representative it's quite clear to me that civil unions are little more than legalized (and eventually legally entrenched) bigotry. It's the new "separate but equal". Once civil unions are legalized and become commonplace it will be an excuse for the elite conservative bigot class to look around and say "How generous and fair we are! We've allowed gays to have recognized civil unions under the law!"

We'll then have a series of Plessy v Ferguson style court rulings that justify this position. It's not unreasonable to believe that it could be another fifty years before gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights as heteros. And then have wait for a court brave enough to buck the conservative social bigotry with a Brown v Board of Education style ruling.

It's difficult to be patient and wait for society to come to grips with it's bigotry. Losing battle after battle in an effort to gain equality is a frustrating and exasperating exercise.

Inroads are being made outside of the United States.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada all recognize gay marriage. The ball is rolling. These nations as well as the others who will be legalizing gay unions will start using this issue as a bludgeon against the United States. If Bush hasn't completely eroded our moral authority in other issue areas (a significiant "if", certainly) the US will attempt to use it to force the hand of nations not complying with what the US government wants. Those nations will be holding the woeful US policy toward gays and lesbians in our own country against the government. Leverage cuts both ways.

Civil unions are a short term gain to be sure. In the long run I believe that they will be a significant hindrance to true equal rights for all. I hope the gay community and advocates of my peer group begin to see the danger that settling for civil unions can pose to equal rights.

Posted by Carla Ryan at July 25, 2005 5:11 PM