Gay marriage vs. civil unions

In response to the letter received from Mr. Leland Traiman and subsequently published by the Addison Eagle last week regarding the change in title of civil union (or California's Domestic Partnership) to marriage, Mr. Traiman inadvertently makes the case for the change while arguing that it would not make any difference. He is correct that changing the name of the relationship to marriage would not secure automatically the benefits of civil marriage at the federal level, due to the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as a union between one man and woman. This law applies to more than a 1,000 marriage benefits, rights and privileges governed by federal statute. Those in civil unions are denied access to these privileges enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. As a result same sex couples pay more in taxes and find that their State benefits disappear the moment they leave the State which grants them. Continuing civil unions and domestic partnerships for same sex couples will not lead to obtaining these additional benefits over an extended period of time. For example, employers who grant married couples the benefits of health insurance have no obligation to do that for civil unions or domestic partnerships no matter how long the relationship has existed. But they would be obligated by their own policies if the title of the relationship were 'civil marriage.' Civil unions are a legal anomaly not recognized in many states or the private sector. While marriage is a commonly recognized legal relationship in all the states of the Union and fully recognized in the private realm as well. In order to challenge the denial of these benefits at the state and federal level as well as in the private sector one must first be legally married somewhere, which is the importance of the same sex marriage law in Massachusetts. If a separate category like civil union had been created for interracial couples instead of civil marriage, then interracial couples would also be in the same boat as gay and lesbian civil unions. But since they were able in time to be married in some states, beginning with California, in 1948, it was possible to challenge the states that held laws against interracial marriage so that the supreme court in Loving vs. Virginia finally struck down all such laws in 1964 as unequal and discriminatory. Today, no one would maintain that interracial couples should have been satisfied with a second class legal relationship known as civil unions or domestic partnership. Neither should gay or lesbian couples, including Mr. Traiman, settle for less than the full benefit and legal recognition of his 17- year relationship. Unfortunately, his willingness to do so is not likely based on a willingness to forego full equality, but rather more likely on an understandable fear that in asking for full equality he and his partner might be subject to yet more criticism, hostility and homophobia. Such is the nature of intimidation of minorities in our society that we often are willing to settle for less than full equality. All of us, straight and gay, should reject such compromises as demeaning to our belief in the equality of all citizens under law, which is the ideal our nation seeks to live by and is enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Sarah Flynn

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