Third Party & Independents Archives

Toward a More Civil Union

Once again the tide is rising on the question of gay marriage (same sex marriage) in America just in time for the 2004 Presidential election. And despite the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that gay marriage is not illegal and the network/cable television’s infatuation with everything gay, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows that Americans are still not ready to give gay and lesbian couples their day at the altar.

I too, am reticent to say yes to same sex marriage, mindful as I am of the overall good of society. True, due to a number of factors, the traditional American nuclear family is in trouble, but I wonder if society is better served by allowing gays and lesbian to marry. In a society in which individual rights seem to supersede all at the expense of common sense and personal responsibility, it is wise to move with caution. In a country where the push is on to allow pets their day in court, if gay marriage were allowed, would other forms of unions outside the norms of society be espoused?

That being said, I do not agree with the current push for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage. As a purely social matter, the definition of marriage should be left to the states to regulate as long as they stay within the framework of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and due process of law. And this to me is the heart of the matter. How then to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry within the framework of the 14th Amendment without gutting it? In the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, the court stated:

”The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

I cannot condone the denial of due process and equal protection rights for gays and lesbians under the law. As tax payers and citizens of equal standing, same sex partners have a right to the same legal protections their heterosexual counterparts enjoy under marriage “contracts.”

In a now much lauded and maligned case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled in Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, that:

“Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. It brings stability to our society," Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in the long-awaited ruling. "For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits. In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations."

Having said that, the Court stopped short of ordering the state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, but wisely referred the matter back to the state legislature for future action. Which way the legislature will go—a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, or some sort of Civil Union—is the subject of speculation and debate. But the country is watching.

I vote for the Civil Union. I believe the Civil Union to be a reasonable and just alternative to marriage for gays and lesbians. Under Civil Union contracts, gay and lesbian couples could enjoy all of the rights and responsibilities married heterosexual couples enjoy, including hospital visitation rights, death and insurance benefits, survivors benefits, adoption rights, and family leave benefits, just to name a few.

The first state—and to my knowledge, the only state—in the union to institute Civil Union is Vermont. In accordance with 15 V.S.A. (Vermont Statues Annotated) Section 1204:

“Parties to a civil union are given all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under Vermont law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage.”

This compromise seems to me a win-win situation for all involved; we who oppose gay marriage give rest to the question and protect societal interests, and same sex partners receive all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage.

Those who oppose even Civil Unions would just as soon place the Constitution in a lock box and forget the spirit and letter of the document. We as a society cannot go down a road where we circumvent the legal rights of a whole class of people; didn’t we as a country do that once? And what was the result?
I believe strongly in the spirit of the Constitution and its promise of equal protection under law, and I am ever mindful of the words of the Preamble to our federal Constitution:

“We the people in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility. Provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity…”

Those words mean something to me, and should to all of us who sip at the fountain of American freedom. We have a duty and responsibility to each other to ensure that the blessing of liberty and equality are conferred on all, while at the same time maintaining a viable society. And while I oppose same sex marriage as contrary to the tenants of a harmonious society, I do support Civil Unions as a workable alternative, one which guarantees same sex couples the equal protection and due process under law married couples enjoy under law.

Posted by V. Edward Martin at December 23, 2003 2:50 PM