Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should there be DPs if there is marriage?

Not all gay people are thrilled about marriage equality. There is a distinct group that likes things the way they are. They are happy with domestic partnerships, and are worried that if marriage is legal, the status of DP will be eliminated. (In most states, DPs are not available to straight couples). They decry the idea that gay couples should be treated like straights, and required to marry if they want benefits like partner coverage. Instead, they think that DPs should be an option for everyone, straight or gay.

Writing in the NY Times, Katherine Franke says,
While many in our community have worked hard to secure the right of same-sex couples to marry, others of us have been working equally hard to develop alternatives to marriage. For us, domestic partnerships and civil unions aren’t a consolation prize made available to lesbian and gay couples because we are barred from legally marrying. Rather, they have offered us an opportunity to order our lives in ways that have given us greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.

It’s not that we’re antimarriage; rather, we think marriage ought to be one choice in a menu of options by which relationships can be recognized and gain security. Like New York City’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who has been in a relationship for over 10 years without marrying, one can be an ardent supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples while also recognizing that serious, committed relationships can be formed outside of marriage.

Here’s why I’m worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another.
Now, in France (as I've discussed), there is a civil union option that is widely viewed as "marriage lite", called a PAC. For political reasons, it is offered to both straight and gay couples (marriage is restricted to the straight couples only). The rate of marriage has dropped as straights have availed themselves of this option, preferring something less permanent-seeming than Real Marriage. That's the option preferred by Franke, who is worried that she will lose DP benefits and be forced to marry.

I admit, I'm confused. Why would you "settle" for something less than marriage? Franke again:
As strangers to marriage for so long, we’ve created loving and committed forms of family, care and attachment that far exceed, and often improve on, the narrow legal definition of marriage. Many of us are not ready to abandon those nonmarital ways of loving once we can legally marry.

Of course, lots of same-sex couples will want to marry as soon as they are allowed to, and we will congratulate them when they do even if we ourselves choose not to. But we shouldn’t be forced to marry to keep the benefits we now have, to earn and keep the respect of our friends and family, and to be seen as good citizens.
I wonder how much of this is related to LGBT folks of a Certain Age, particularly women who have ordered their lives in a way that goes against the patriarchal history of marriage. They've rejected that meaning of marriage because of that baggage. And maybe it's because of my age (although I'm not that young), but I just don't get it.

I want to be married. To me, the DP is a second rate option. And thus, I have no issue with certain legal benefits accruing to those willing to make that commitment, as long as all people straight or gay have the opportunity to do so. I don't want to live in the ghetto of "not willing to take that step".

To me,why WOULDN'T you marry, if it is legal? I leapt at the opportunity to participate in the process with my beloved, and every morning I wake up so grateful that I could. I wonder if it's a generational thing, or reflecting that fact that I have always been "assimilated" and not really connected to a "gay identity" or "lesbian identity" until the marriage issue came up.

Interestingly, Linda Hirsch thinks that marriage equality for LGBT people will mean more equal straight marriages too. Thus, that whole patriarchal notion is taking a hit.
Same-sex marriage represents the possibility that marriage can be an equal deal after all—or at least one where inequality is not locked in at birth. The conservatives are right: Same-sex marriage will change opposite-sex marriage. And it's a good thing, too.

….At each point along the road to women's equality, conservatives defended heterosexual marriage inequality on the grounds that women were naturally suited only for certain kinds of lives….

… W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and resident scholar at the Institute for American Values, argued that "women are not happier in marriages marked by egalitarian practices and beliefs." ….More church attendance, higher male earnings, and lower female expectations are instead the key to family happiness, Wilcox concludes.
Turnabout is fair play. As the arguments for heterosexual marriage inequality were used to fight same-sex marriage, so the success of same-sex marriage is a living refutation of the argument that marriage requires congenital natural inequality with women on the bottom. Even the campaign for same-sex marriage, consisting of a torrent of moving stories about the happy same-sex couples who want to get married, is a feminist windfall. Maybe marital equality and happiness aren't so incompatible after all.
So opening marriage to committed couples without the baggage of fixed gender roles will be good for everyone. And the baggage with which some people view marriage will be ameliorated.

Is there a state interest in supporting marriage over DPs, assuming that each is equally available? Should DPs continue to be available if (when) marriage is open to all couples?

I cross posted this from GMC because I think it also impacts the blessing question in TEC. As I wrote here previously, one of the issues in recognition of same sex relationships is the many different legal statuses LGBT people face in different states. Unless and until there is full marriage equality, that will continue.

Should blessing of the relationship be contingent upon a legal recognition if one is possible, and should that be the most stringent one available? If both blessings and DPs are available,should the couple be required to marry? Does it make a difference if straights have different options?


it's margaret said...

I have had these discussions with some folk striving for full marriage equality --mostly because I question the institution of 'marriage' and would be very willing to look for some other word to describe the institution or what is/may be happening in such a commitment/action. --because, yes, the institution/state of 'marriage' is changing --and it should.

One one of the important changes is what is happening according to the government and the full panoply according to communities of faith. I HATE being a servant/officer of the State in conducting a theologically worn-out religious ceremony. We have MUCH work to do. --including understanding the words 'matrimony' or 'marriage' --and their etymologies!

it's margaret said...

marry: Old French from maritus "married man, husband," of uncertain origin, perhaps ult. from "provided with a *mari," a young woman, from PIE base *meri- "young wife," akin to *meryo- "young man" (cf. Skt. marya- "young man, suitor")

matrimony: from O.Fr. matremoine, from L. matrimonium "wedlock, marriage," from matrem (nom. mater) "mother" + -monium, suffix signifying "action, state, condition."

Two very different origins --one dealing with the state of already being con-joined, but seemingly and ultimately male-based; matrimony having to do with the condition of mothering....

From the Etymology Dictionary
...and, yes, words and meaning do matter (in my book!) because our source of the words we use is usually our horizon....

dr.primrose said...

Part of my problem with Franke's article is I'm not really sure what she means. She seems to advocating what I would call the first generation DPs, which some progressive cities enacted by ordinance, say, a decade and a half ago. These first generation DPs really gave no rights to speak of; they essentially gave the couple only an opportunity to publicly say they were a couple. Employers or others could then voluntarily recognize that status (or not).

The second generation DPs were like those in California enacted about a decade ago, which gave a smattering of rights but not much.

The third generation DPs are like the current California statute that essentially says that domestic partners have the same rights and obligations as married spouses (with some exceptions currently required by DOMA and the federal tax code). It's my understanding that the states that have civil union statutes provide essentially the same thing.

So what does Franke want? Appparently, not the third generation form because that's too close to marriage. Apparently, something less but I'm at a loss to know what.

All I can figure out is that she wants the ability to add a partner of some sort to her health insurance. Do states really need statutes for that? Can't that be done by the employer? My employer's health insurance covers both spouses and domestic partners, as it must under California law. But to get domestic partnership coverage, someone can either be legally registered with the state or (if you don't want to legally register) file a notarized affadavit with the employer stating that they're not related, they're living together, they're mutually responsible for each other, and there's no other spouse or partner. Would that meet Francke's needs?

dr.primrose said...

Previous comment disappeared. Could you see if it went to spam? Thanks.

IT said...

Sorry about that Primrose. Blogger doesn't like you, but we love you.

I agree, I think she wants something "looser". ANd she's afraid of losing the privilege to be "looser".

So, should the state be interested in promoting less stable relationships in addition to the legal ties of marriage?

Ann said...

The bishop of Oregon has said that you must DP (available in Oregon) or marry if you want to be a priest and want to have a permanent relationship with someone. He has said we can do blessings in church of either or both.

dr.primrose said...

Ann, I don't disagree with the bishop's policy in the abstract. But there are signficant financial costs that result in forcing gay couples to DP or even marry in light of DOMA and the IRS rules.

For example, if the diocese extends health benefits to a gay DP or even a gay spouse where same-sex marriage is permitted, those benefits are fully federally taxable even though they wouldn't be for a heterosexual couple. We're probably talking about $1-2K in additional taxes.

There are an increasing number of companies that will pick up that amount for gay DPs or spouses. If the diocese insists on policies like this, does it pick up the additional resulting costs? Or does it just tell people to eat it?

If the latter, it seems to me that the diocese should hold off forcing people to DP (or marry) until there's an equal playing field for gay and straight couples.

MadPriest said...

DPs only have moral equivalence with marriage if those in them have been forced into them by legal circumstance. In all honesty I think that campaigning for a second type of partnership, that will be, for all fundamentalists and a high proportion of other morally concerned people, religious or not, a less responsible (less godly, where applicable) course of action, will undermine pretty much every argument we have put forward for full equality between gay and straight couples. Bringing the subject up at this moment in time will make it more difficult for those campaigning in legislative districts throughout the world who are still fighting for their rights.

IT said...

MP, I agree. I don't think that the unwillingness of some to participate fully in marriage should justify keeping a "second class" status.

Primrose, it is certainly clear that gaining legal recognition is thanks to DOMA disincentived financially. For example my wife and I each get insurance from our individual employers because it would cost too much in taxes to consolidate; if we were straight we'd save money on one plan.

But I also think that it's important for people to seize the possibility. Even though we knew our marriage wouldn't be treated fairly we still got married. It makes a statement at many levels.

MadPriest said...

I think DPs are a good idea but I think there main benefit should and would be for friends and relatives who live together. We should be encouraging single people to share accommodation. It would be good for the environment and would help keep house prices low. It is also usually good to have company, especially when you get older. It would allow people to delay, or even completely avoid, moving into sheltered accommodation. A law that would make this less problematical (especially in the event of the death of one of the domestic partners) would encourage such common sense arrangements.

MadPriest said...

Oh, and it would also stop people assuming that if two people of the same sex are living together then they must be gay. When I was a child it was very common for people to share homes on a platonic basis. Research has shown that one of the reasons that this is now so rare in England is that people fear other people reading more into the situation than is true.

Counterlight said...

I've always said that if it was up to me, it would be Civil Unions for everybody and keep marriage a specifically religious agreement.
However, the arrangement we have now in this country is what it is, and is not likely to change anytime soon. "Marriage" as we have it now shapes people's expectations, and I see no reason to deny them accommodation.

We forget that umpteen years ago, the leadership of The Gay Movement was not interested in the marriage question. They were interested in hate crimes legislation, especially in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder. The idea of gay marriage was just too far out there to be considered a realistic expectation, as far as they were concerned.
It was the rank and file who really wanted this, taking everyone by surprise when Hawaii's courts first floated the idea of legal gay marriage almost 15 years ago. It took the various leaderships awhile to take up the cause, but they did eventually.
I have no problem with both marriage and a domestic partner arrangement. As far as I'm concerned, the relationship for domestic partners can be sexual or not, it doesn't alter the nature of the living arrangement. Domestic partnership is for two people who want to share housing. Marriage is for those who want to make a household together and create some form of family, children or not.

textjunkie said...

Little late to the party here, but I'm a variation on Counterlight--the govt should get out of the marriage business, move the legal status to DPs or civil unions, and let the churches do the marriage thing as they see fit. Heck, the Mormons and the Catholics don't accept my marriage--the govt does, and that's what counts for end of life experiences, health insurance, child support, buying a house together, tax breaks, etc. Call it a DP, call it marriage, call it a civil union, call it murgatroyd--it's the legal aspects where the equal rights part comes in.

I don't entirely agree that DPs is for those who want to share housing while marriage is for "something more." Marriage is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace--if you're going for that inward and invisible grace (rather than the legal rights etc.), you can have it regardless of what the govt. says. (and in truth, regardless of what the church says!!) In that sense it is something more than a DP, but it is no business of the government what your sacramental status is. If you're going for the legal rights and responsibilities, though, then the church needs to stay out of it and you need the govt to say you have all the rights and responsibilities.

IT said...

Yes, but practically speaking, the government is NOT going to get out of the marriage business which is completely codified in so many laws.