Why aren't civil unions good enough for YOU?

28 January 2010

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ZJ: In many areas, civil unions have been developed as an alternative to marriage for gay couples. It's meant to serve as a sort of separate-but-equal legal device with all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, but under a different name. And when the legality of gay marriage is debated, people will often say, "Aren't civil unions enough?"

Well, no, they're not. In practice, civil unions are not equal to marriage, and oftentimes fail to provide the same rights as marriage. Employers may choose not to recognize civil unions or treat them as marriage. Couples in civil unions might not receive the same spousal benefits as married couples, such as health insurance, life insurance, and family leave. Hospitals may not understand that civil unions are equivalent to marriage, and people in civil unions may not be allowed to visit their partner or make medical decisions for them, even in an emergency.

Couples in civil unions may not be permitted to adopt children, meaning that if they do have children, they will not have the same joint parental rights as a married couple. The laws regarding the dissolution of civil unions may differ widely from established divorce laws, adding more legal complications for couples who want to end their civil union. And civil unions are not portable between states in the same way that marriages are. They may not be recognized as a civil union outside of the state they were formalized in.

Additionally, the term "civil union" fails to convey the degree of commitment indicated by the word "marriage". The importance of marriage, and the unique brand of partnership and closeness that it signifies, is universally understood, whereas not everyone understands what a civil union is.

And if civil unions are intended to be equal to marriage, then what need is there to designate them as something other than marriage? Distinguishing between civil unions and marriage is unnecessary, and it only provides another way to discriminate against gay couples by treating them differently from straight couples. All of the purported benefits of civil unions can be realized without any of the associated confusion by simply allowing gay couples to marry.

So, are civil unions enough? No, not at all. But some people still think they should be good enough for us. To them, I would pose the same question: Aren't civil unions good enough for you?

Why do you need to get married? If you expect us to settle for civil unions, then why won't you? What does marriage offer you that you need and we can't have? If you think civil unions are good enough for us, why aren't they good enough for you?

And if they aren't good enough, maybe you should think about why. And perhaps then you'll understand why we, too, need marriage—not civil unions.

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