Gay marriage or union? What's in a word?

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jun 20, 2009 3:41 PM GMT
    Several related RJ threads have questioned the wisdom of fighting for the right of gay marriage in the US, when civil union might be more attainable. It's argued that union is a less inflammatory word for straights, and would neutralize a great deal of the anti-gay opposition, especially that based on religious beliefs.

    I held this position myself for a number of years. I felt if we could just get the effects of marriage, by whatever approach we could, the name was less important. And knowing the history of colloquial English usage, I figured that before long everyone would be commonly calling it marriage, anyway, even if it was legally titled something else.

    One of the practical problems with the word union is that it does not lend itself to linguistic constructions comparable to marriage, particular the verb forms. One can marry, be married, and enter into a marriage. But one cannot union, or be unioned, only enter into a union.

    I felt that if a flexible alternative word for marriage could be devised, both straight resistance would be lessened, as well as gay insistence on taking the word marriage. I haven't found one yet.

    The other important issue, however, is one of equivalence. It's been argued that only marriage imparts the full rights & privileges that straight couples enjoy. Why does this have to be? I've read those arguments, but they seem to be based on other semantic quirks in the laws, which ought to be changeable.

    What are your thoughts?
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    Jun 20, 2009 5:37 PM GMT
    It has always been my position that there can be no separation and still be equal with respect to the rule of law. Having said that, I have always offered the physical separation of church and state in that a man & a woman, a woman & a woman and a man & a man could be CIVILLY joined under the law in a CIVIL UNION for the purpose of rights and benefits. Since the courts, with respect to divorce, see marriage as a contract, said contract could read as Civil Union or Lawfully Joined in a Civil Union. If couples wanted to then have a religious ceremony (lots do, lots don't), they could do so with the understanding that such ceremony does not guarantee lawful rights and benefits, pointing to separation of church and state. Since marriage requires a license, the license would then be required for Civil Unions, not Holy Matrimony (marriage).

    My Yahoo Reference dictionary lists marriage as follows:

    NOUN:
    1.
    a. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
    b. The state of being married; wedlock.
    c. A common-law marriage.
    d. A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage.
    2. A wedding.
    3. A close union: "the most successful marriage of beauty and blood in mainstream comics" (Lloyd Rose).
    4. Games The combination of the king and queen of the same suit, as in pinochle.

    And the thesaurus wasn't much help either:
    1. The state of being united as husband and wife: conjugality, connubiality, matrimony, wedlock. See MARRIAGE
    2. The act or ceremony by which two people become husband and wife: bridal, espousal, nuptial (often used in plural), spousal (often used in plural), wedding. See MARRIAGE

    I haven't been able to come up with a word that is equal to marriage in meaning that would work. And I thought to myself: Why should we? By definition, marriage is the union of two persons. Custom dictates the two persons be opposite sex and deemed husband and wife. That is changing as customs often do. The simplest thing to do is drop the husband and wife from the definition in the Civil arena. The religious ceremony, if done, can still include that whether it be husband & wife, wife & wife or husband & husband.

    I have discussed this with a good many people and the consensus has been that it is pretty logistically impossible to unmarry everyone and then have them all go to city hall to being civilly joined.

    So, for me, the only recourse is to continue forward with the current course in pursuit of marriage equality.
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    Jun 20, 2009 5:47 PM GMT
    Allowing our unions to be defined as different from the rest of society concedes the right for society to define us anyway they want and not as equal members of society with full rights
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    Jun 20, 2009 5:52 PM GMT
    Well I've thought about the word "join" which has some possibilities, if it's accepted to legally mean a union other than marriage.

    "We're going to be joined next week." "Bill & I are legally joined." "We had a joining ceremony last May."

    But it fails as a noun. "What do you want for your joinage gift?" "I attended a joinage last week."

    I suppose one could shift to "wedding" for those usages but that might still offend the religious types. But if not, then wed could also work.

    "We're wedded." "We had a wedding last week." "We going to wed." "What would you like for your wedding?"

    But of course wed means the action, not necessarily the continued state of being united thereafter. For once, the vast English vocabulary seems to let us down. The words marriage and marry are indeed rather unique, for which other substitutes don't work as well. But marriage also has these religious connotations, which is a major stumbling block to straights, who outnumber us and will ultimately decide this matter.
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    Jun 20, 2009 5:58 PM GMT
    I mistakenly thought that a civil union was functionally equivalent to marriage. I now know I was wrong. Otherwise, it would be simple to campaign on the less touchy phrase “civil union”, take the victory, and build on that. That may still be the faster path to the goal. Unfortunately, the two are not legally equivalent. My understanding is that there is no particular reciprocity among states on civil unions as there is on marriage. Even in states that allow gay marriage today, or in the future, DOMA still eliminates the ability to access federal level benefits and rights as a married couple regardless of what a state allows.

    Because of this, I have to agree with Erik. It has to be marriage.
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    Jun 20, 2009 5:58 PM GMT
    Caslon11000 saidAllowing our unions to be defined as different from the rest of society concedes the right for society to define us anyway they want and not as equal members of society with full rights

    What if the definition is in all ways the same, except for the gender of the couple? Why not use marriage to describe an opposite-sex couple, and union or something else to describe a same-sex couple, if the legal standing is exactly the same?

    If it gets us the prize we want, why argue semantics? As I said earlier, in a few decades for simplicity we'd all likely be referring to it as marriage anyway.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:03 PM GMT
    This was a good page that talks about the legal differences between marriage and civil unions.

    http://www.factcheck.org/what_is_a_civil_union.html
  • Squarejaw

    Posts: 1035

    Jun 20, 2009 6:04 PM GMT
    I wrote a blog entry on this "separate but equal" option a while back:

    I’ve seen documentaries about Brown v. Topeka, and the producers always compare a spiffy 1950s whites-only school with a ramshackle “negro” schoolhouse. That made me think the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine because the equal part never really happened. But if you read the Brown decision, the Court believed the separate facilities really were equal, or pretty close.

    But the good guys won anyway. Why? Because they arrived with studies showing the mere fact of separateness did harm to black kids. The decision included this:

    From Brown v Topeka:Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.


    Relate this to gay kids. We already know they’re at a greater risk for suicide. Now they hear people say, “Settle for civil unions-we’ll give you the rights of marriage but not the word itself. What’s the difference?” Here’s the difference:

    Any relationship you have might be good enough for civil unions, but not for marriage. Good enough for an uninspired legal phrase-not for the real thing. Good enough to live on the awkward outskirts of our culture, but not the heart, the core, the soul of America.

    When I read the Brown decision, I have to think segregation of straight and gay relationships has a detrimental effect on gays. It denotes the inferiority of gay relationships. It leaves gays with an attitude of futility when it comes to commitment.

    I don’t have any evidence on that. I’m not sure evidence is out there. It’s probably time for an enterprising grad student to take that on as a Ph.D. dissertation. And it’s not like we’re helpless victims here. Gay men can fight against this conditioning, and many of us succeed. But why should we have the burden to begin with?

    And that leads to me back to gay kids. I just talked to my sister, a surgeon in Frankfurt, Indiana. Now, the city of Indianapolis might be gay-friendly, but the 50-mile drive to Frankfurt might as well be a 50-year voyage back in time as far as gays are concerned. I wonder about gay kids in Frankfurt. I think about Harvey Milk saying that victories in San Francisco gave hope to gay kids in small towns everywhere. And it makes me ashamed I didn’t do more to fight Prop 8, because that loss was a betrayal of gay kids everywhere.

    And settling for civil unions instead of fighting for marriage-that would betray them again.

    http://wakingupnow.com/blog/why-do-you-need-the-word-marriage
  • coolarmydude

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    Jun 20, 2009 6:04 PM GMT
    Words matter.
  • metta

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    Jun 20, 2009 6:04 PM GMT
    I would only be ok with civil unions if the government would not recognize any marriage. Full equality, nothing less will ever be acceptable. However, if the government did get rid of the use of marriage and would leave that word to religion, gay marriage would still exist because there are churches that are happy to perform gay marriages. No matter what, we will win in the end. The people that feel that straight relationships are superior to gay relationships can go in circles all they want....the results will be the same.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:05 PM GMT
    Wampy saidUnfortunately, the two [terms] are not legally equivalent. My understanding is that there is no particular reciprocity among states on civil unions as there is on marriage. Even in states that allow gay marriage today, or in the future, DOMA still eliminates the ability to access federal level benefits and rights as a married couple regardless of what a state allows.

    Because of this, I have to agree with Erik. It has to be marriage.

    DOMA is a separate issue, and needs to be eliminated in any case. The problems with Social Security benefits alone require it be overturned. Even if every one of the 50 states allowed gay marriage, DOMA would still be wrong.

    But aside from DOMA, and some other semantic discrepancies in existing laws that can be corrected, why does it have to be marriage and nothing else? Why can't the non-equivalency problem be resolved in other ways?

    I'm certainly not in favor of an unequal solution, but can't we have our cake and eat it, too? I want gay couples to wed now. Why not get the right first, and worry about the semantics later?
  • coolarmydude

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    Jun 20, 2009 6:08 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa said, "If it gets us the prize we want, why argue semantics?"

    The prize isn't marriage. The prize is the equal opportunity to marry.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:08 PM GMT
    my utopian solution is to abolish marriage as a state administered institution and leave it to religious groups, just as baptism, dedication, circumcision etc are all private religious rites which a religion can administer to itself, but does not make one more or less a citizen.

    In its place have a civil union, which would give all the advantages of what is presently called "marriage". On top of the civil union then you could have a church/synagogue marriage IF you wished. This is actually the situation in Chile. People here normally have two weddings; civil e iglesia.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:14 PM GMT
    Frankly I prefer civil union, but that may be mostly a function of growing up in a time when gay marriage was unthinkable. My partner of 31 years and I will probably never be "married", no matter whether DC decides to legalize it for us or not. We are in a DC civil union, which gives us some rights, and I would prefer to have those rights extended until they fully equal marital rights. I would also prefer that they be legally recognized in other states and by the Federal Government. I assume, maybe wrongly, that the DOMA allows other states to ignore out union. Honestly, we would not calll each other "husband" whatever. That work is too freighted for us with centuries of het marriage. Other long-term gay couples we know (at least four) feel pretty much the same.
    I think gay people should be allowed to marry if they wish. That is a civil right that no government should deny, and I have happily attended friends' weddings. But for me it does not work.
    Philosophically, I think gay people are different from straight people and I have no problems with recognizing our domestic arrangements under a differerent rubric.

    Are there any French RJers who can shed light on how the Pacs Cilvile there works? Do French Gays like it or do they want marriage per se?
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:16 PM GMT
    What about a Common Law Marriage? According the the US Supreme Court, Marriage is a right of the Common Law, antecedent to government; and not subject to regulation thereof.

    Here is the holding from the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Meister v. Moore 96 US 76 (1877):

    "As before remarked, the statutes are held merely directory; because marriage is a thing of common right..."



    A domestic partnership is good enough for me, anyway...

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    Jun 20, 2009 6:18 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa said
    Caslon11000 saidAllowing our unions to be defined as different from the rest of society concedes the right for society to define us anyway they want and not as equal members of society with full rights

    What if the definition is in all ways the same, except for the gender of the couple?

    It still says something that a different word is being used. It says we are still withholding acceptance and approval at some level. And the state is still complicit in supporting those who oppose gay marriage by withholding the name. If it is the same, then why use a different word.

    Also, the word "joinage" does sound strange. How about "joining"? We are having a joining, like we are having a wedding. We dont say we are having a weddage.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:18 PM GMT
    Lostboy saidmy utopian solution is to abolish marriage as a state administered institution and leave it to religious groups, just as baptism, dedication, circumcision etc are all private religious rites which a religion can administer to itself, but does not make one more or less a citizen.

    In its place have a civil union, which would give all the advantages of what is presently called "marriage". On top of the civil union then you could have a church/synagogue marriage IF you wished. This is actually the situation in Chile. People here normally have two weddings; civil e iglesia.


    What I said above and what I've been saying all along, but logistically impossible, but would force the creation of more jobs, to do the initial rejoining of the defunct marriages.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:19 PM GMT
    RyanReBoRn saidWhat about a Common Law Marriage? According the the US Supreme Court, Marriage is a right of the Common Law, antecedent to government; and not subject to regulation thereof.

    Here is the holding from the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Meister v. Moore 96 US 76 (1877):

    "As before remarked, the statutes are held merely directory; because marriage is a thing of common right..."

    A domestic partnership is good enough for me, anyway...

    How does common law marriage relate to issues such as inheritance, patient rights, and Social Security benefits, among others? I don't know the law on this.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:30 PM GMT
    RyanReBoRn saidWhat about a Common Law Marriage? According the the US Supreme Court, Marriage is a right of the Common Law, antecedent to government; and not subject to regulation thereof.

    Here is the holding from the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Meister v. Moore 96 US 76 (1877):

    "As before remarked, the statutes are held merely directory; because marriage is a thing of common right..."

    A domestic partnership is good enough for me, anyway...




    Common Law marriage is different in each state and some states don't even have it. For the states that do, the amount of time you are together without being legally married determines it. South Carolina, for example, automatically deems the relationship a common law marriage after 7 years. North Carolina has never permitted common law marriage. North Carolina also still recognizes the legitimacy or illegitimacy of children with respect to inheritance, Social Security benefits, etc. Even to the point that if a child is born out of wedlock and the parents marry later, a new birth certificate must be issued to complete the legitimacy of the child.
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:31 PM GMT
    Caslon11000 said
    Red_Vespa saidWhat if the definition is in all ways the same, except for the gender of the couple?

    It still says something that a different word is being used. It says we are still withholding acceptance and approval at some level. And the state is still complicit in supporting those who oppose gay marriage by withholding the name. If it is the same, then why use a different word.

    Also, the word "joinage" does sound strange. How about "joining"? We are having a joining, like we are having a wedding. We dont say we are having a weddage.

    We use other gender-specific words for things that otherwise have equal standing in law. It's a matter of description, not necessarily of discrimination.

    At the same time, I will concede that such gender specifics are becoming less common, at least in English. We now say "actor" for both men & women, rather than actor & actress (except for acting awards to preserve a category). We also say server instead of waiter & waitress, and flight attendant instead of steward & stewardess. It makes sense, given that there is no gender distinction for other occupations like writer, painter, driver, physician, and so forth.

    I did consider the gerund "joining" as a possibility, but proposed joinage to illustrate the broader problem of not having a true noun.

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    Jun 20, 2009 6:41 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa said
    RyanReBoRn saidWhat about a Common Law Marriage? According the the US Supreme Court, Marriage is a right of the Common Law, antecedent to government; and not subject to regulation thereof.

    Here is the holding from the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Meister v. Moore 96 US 76 (1877):

    "As before remarked, the statutes are held merely directory; because marriage is a thing of common right..."

    A domestic partnership is good enough for me, anyway...

    How does common law marriage relate to issues such as inheritance, patient rights, and Social Security benefits, among others? I don't know the law on this.


    I'm sorry I can't adequately answer your question. I don't know much about the benefits of getting a civil union besides that it's similar to a State issued marriage. Without the State, of course.
  • coolarmydude

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    Jun 20, 2009 6:42 PM GMT
    Red, I think you're missing the point on the fight for gay marriage. Our gay rights agenda is about equality for the gay community. The focal point is equality and we expect equality in our legal recognition of our relationships. The term marriage is a religious and secular term that has been used interchangeably throughout history to recognize a domestic relationship. To not be considered married like heterosexuals on the civil side of the argument is to be treated as an unrecognized status of people. It's unrealistic to approach a compromise on terminology because it falls short of reaching equality. Separate but equal is not equality. Why find comfort in segragating ourselves like this?
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:48 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa said I'm certainly not in favor of an unequal solution, but can't we have our cake and eat it, too? I want gay couples to wed now. Why not get the right first, and worry about the semantics later?


    Because it isn’t just semantics. If it isn’t marriage, if DOMA still exists, you will have to fight the same fight 51 times over and still not have the same rights as a marriage, even if, having won all those battles, all 51 states and DC also agree to reciprocity.

    If your husband dies, you still will not be able to access survivorship benefits. If his estate passes to you as his partner, you will be taxed on it. You won’t be able to file your taxes jointly, if that provides any benefit.

    The difference reminds me very much of Loving v. Virginia, 1967. A black woman and a white man lived in Virginia. They could not legally be married in Virginia because it was illegal for whites to marry non whites. They went to DC, where it was legal, got married and returned home. They were subsequently arrested for getting married and convicted. Loving v. Virginia corrected the situation. Quoting from a wiki page about the case….

    “On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that…
    “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.””


    Further down the page, they cite a portion of the Supreme Court’s Ruling as follows…

    “The court ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In its decision, the court wrote:

    “Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190. 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. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.””


    I don’t think it takes much imagination to apply this case to the current problems with gay marriage. A lesser legal status like civil unions simply makes it more difficult to create a situation where civil unions are equal across the board, much less equal to marriage.

    This is also the problem with the administration brief in the DOMA case. The case should be allowed to go before the Supreme Court and allow them to see how this previous ruling is still relevant today.

    Here is a link to a Wiki page about the case - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loving_v._Virginia

    Please take the time to read the court’s actual decision and decide it’s relevance to the current topic for yourself. - http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0388_0001_ZO.html
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:51 PM GMT
    Red_Vespa said
    How does common law marriage relate to issues such as inheritance, patient rights, and Social Security benefits, among others? I don't know the law on this.


    This was a fairly helpful page.

    http://www.factcheck.org/what_is_a_civil_union.html
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    Jun 20, 2009 6:54 PM GMT
    The problem here is the whole notion that "separate but equal" is OK. The only reason that the conflict exists is that a certain crowd wants the government to label Homosexual relationships as inferior for religious reasons.

    And if two groups of people are considered equal, then why make a whole new set of laws that segregate them? As it is, there are unnecessary differences between California civil unions and Marriage for example.

    Again, the whole notion of forcing one group to use one word instead of another that is supposed to mean the same thing, is itself an act of inequality.

    Either force everyone to use the same word, or give everyone the choice to use what they want.

    Saying that only straights can use the word marriage is like saying only the emperor can wear yellow (see the last emperor). How ridiculous would it be if someone passed a law saying Homosexuals cannot wear yellow, but straight people can? I don't care to "keep my place" just because a straight religious person says I can't go higher.