Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Son of separate but equal

Civil unions are not marriage (they're a good step, mind), and everyone knows it:
Eager to celebrate their partnership, Tracy and Katy Weber Tierney were among the first in line when Connecticut created civil unions three years ago as a way to formalize same-sex relationships without using the word "marriage."

But when Tracy was giving birth to their son, Jake, five months ago, a hospital employee inquired whether she was "married, single, divorced or widowed."

"I'm in a civil union," she replied. When the employee checked "single," Tracy protested. "I'm actually more married than single," she said, leaving the employee flustered about how to proceed.


Though such arrangements were created, often under court mandate, with a promise of treating same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples, many gays and lesbians say they have not delivered and can never do so because separate institutions are inherently unequal. Many also resent being denied use of the word marriage, which they say carries intangible benefits, prestige and status.


Civil unions require constant "haggling, litigation and explanation," said Evan Wolfson, the founder of a New York-based advocacy group called Freedom to Marry. Being married, he said, means "you don't have to fumble for documents. You don't have to hire an attorney, and you don't have to consult a dictionary. You're married. You know what it means, and everyone else knows what it means."

Barbara Upton and Suzanne Rogers, who live in Avon and snapped up a civil union license the day it became available, carry proof of their reciprocal ties wherever they go. Ms. Rogers, a 62-year-old nurse, said the frustrations begin with trying to describe themselves: "We're civilized? We're unionized? Whatever. That's part of the problem. Nobody really understands it, and that includes me."

For Jean Csvihinka, 48, who works at a bank in Milford, getting a civil union meant paying tax on an additional $6,000 a year. Ms. Csvihinka said that adding her partner, Gina Bonfietti, 43, a self-employed piano technician, to her health insurance obligated her to pay a federal tax on the value of the additional coverage that married couples would not owe, and that since the civil union she has also had to pay tax on her daughters' coverage even though the girls were on her plan, tax-free, before. She said she was told that "it's a systems issue."


Amy Pear, a 39-year-old police captain in Middletown, said she was reminded again this month of her own murky legal status when she returned home from an overseas trip with June Lockert, 46, her better half for the last 14 years.

Arriving at Kennedy International Airport, the couple were asked whether they were one household. Captain Pear said she explained that they were, in Connecticut, because of their civil union. She said the customs officer sent them back to be processed separately since the federal government took a different view, and remarked "Welcome home" as she passed.

Captain Pear said she has also been unable to get a firm answer from Middletown officials as to whether Ms. Lockert would get survivor benefits if she died in the line of duty. "Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know how civil unions will work because it's not marriage," Captain Pear said. "You ask does this apply or not, and they say maybe."

I rather liked this quote:
"Being in a civil union is not the same as married," he said. "If it was, they would call it marriage. I don't know anybody who would give up their marriage for a civil union."

Everyone knows at heart that having a civil union is not the same as being married--even if, by some miracle, all the rights and privileges, at the city, county, state, and federal levels were the same for both, it still wouldn't be equal. Civil unions and domestic partnerships and the like are all ways to provide a semblance of equality (in the form of these benefits) while at the same time declaring that gay relationships--and implicitly gay people--are not equal to straight ones.

I was kinda miffed at this portion of the article, though:
The state also argues that the plaintiffs have no case because they are free to marry, just not to someone of the same sex, and that there is no gender discrimination because men and women are equally constrained.

I suppose it would be too much to expect the New York Times to point out that this very same logic was dismissed over 40 years ago when applied to interracial couples.

Via Shakesville.

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