In light of the Garden State becoming the third state to allow for civil unions for gay couples, I offer a cautionary note over getting too excited about ‘justice’.
The old adage that half a loaf is better than none at all seems to work for some when considering the recent actions by New Jersey. Needless to say civil unions are a remarkable step forward in our nation’s social progress. I don’t think any of us would have predicted 25 years ago that the legal barriers to justice for gay relationships would come crumbling down so fast as we have recently witnessed. But that still does not resolve the inequity between marriages that are protected by a whole series of laws and rights, and civil unions, which are akin to the children’s table in the corner during the holiday.
I reject anything for gay Americans that fall short of the full and complete rights afforded all citizens. While I understand the argument of moving one step at a time with this idea to allow some parts of society to adapt to reality, I do not want to hear people talk, as I did today, of civil unions as a major victory. It is not. To even imply that there is something just about withholding the right to marry for gay couples is no better than saying blacks should sit in the back of the bus, or cannot enter into marriage with a white person. The complete and utter stupidity of such thinking cannot, and must not, go unchecked.
Among the hundreds of benefits under the civil unions law, gay couples get rights dealing with adoption, child custody, visiting a hospitalized partner, making medical decisions and getting the same access to health insurance coverage that employers offer spouses of workers. Civil union partners also now have the right not to testify against a partner in state court.
However, the federal government and most states do not recognize the unions. That means, for instance, that a surviving member of a civil union would not be entitled to his deceased partner’s Social Security benefits. And if a partner is hospitalized in another state, the other may not be allowed to visit.
Some may call this ‘almost marriage’ but history is my guide, and proves ‘seperate but equal’ is a wrong policy.
The fact that marriage and all the rights that follow cannot be replicated by any other social contract, including civil unions, is the main reason I have problems with the outcome from the Garden State. When we say the word marriage we all know what it means both in tangible and intangible ways. There is no way to shortcut the path to justice.