1/30/2009

Why Civil Unions are Bad for Us

IMG_3061Image by jessebucksc via Flickr

A post at Bilerico Project this morning sums up some wonderful hard evidence on why "Civil Unions" or "Civil Partnerships" rather than Civil Marriage is an idea that holds the potential to devastate our community and our collective psyche.

While people like Phillip Cotton and Gino Meriano prattle on and line their pockets using a "Civil Partnership" idea as a front, the people who actually know a little something about American law and politics have released a report studying the New Jersey Civil Union law that concludes Civil Unions (or as Mr. Meriano likes to say being from the UK - Civil Partnerships) are really bad things and very damaging to those who partake of this "sloppy seconds" idea.

Marla Stevens has a wonderful recap of just why people like Mr. Meriano and Mr. Cotton are utterly clueless - here are the highlights of her post at Bilerico.com:
Of course, for some time now a few of us have been crying in the wilderness about things like portability, nonredundancy, separate ain't equal and never will be, that Brown vs Board of Education was built on some mighty powerful research about the severe harm that faux equality does to people's heads and that self-imposing more of it would be just plain shoot-yerself-in-the-foot dumb.

I give you the New Jersey Civil Union Commission tasked with exploring the issue of whether civil unions sucked enough to warrant going to the trouble of changing the law to permit civil marriage for same-sex couples. They entered an interim report on it last February because their initial findings were so striking about the actual harm being done by their civil union law as opposed to using the marriage standard and their subsequent findings were equally as compelling enough to cause them to issue their final report both early and unanimously, on my birthday, December 10, 2008...

For instance, the final report states: "In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples." This is despite ample press coverage and official state notification, including to all healthcare providers, of the new law and what it covered.

The report says that the fiscal/job- and insurance-related suffering and harm are not limited to isolated cases. In contrast, "In fact, the word 'marriage' can and does make a difference to employers [and, consequently, to health insurance coverage], even within the constraints of federal law."

Noting the near-absence of ERISA-based discrimination against civilly married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, one union organizer stated, "It is not that ERISA-covered employers in Massachusetts don't understand that federal law allows them to refrain from providing benefits to same-sex married couples. It's that employers also understand that without the term 'civil union' or 'domestic partner' to hide behind, if they don't give equal benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, these employers would have to come forth with the real excuse for discrimination. Employers would have to acknowledge that they are discriminating against their employees because they are lesbian or gay" -- something that employers are increasingly unwilling to do, understanding that the public increasingly understands benefits to be a part of one's job compensation package and are increasingly unwilling to tolerate such blatant examples of unequal pay for equal work.

Further, as the civil union status makes both partners co-liable for their debts but simultaneously can be used to prevent them being both covered by insurance, some couples have faced the necessity to dissolve their civil unions rather than put their entire family financial well-being at risk.

They found that "denying same-sex couples access to the widely recognized civil institution of marriage while conferring the legal benefits under a parallel system using different nomenclature, imposes a second-class status on same-sex couples and sends the message that it is permissible to discriminate against them."

The report states that civil unions institutionalize second-class status with predictable negative effects that, according to a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor, "contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders" due to being "branded with an inferior label."

As the report notes, civil marriage, in contrast, has positive benefits in this regard, "The socially sanctioned right of gay marriage which is qualitatively different than civil unions, the right to choose one's spouse, has a positive impact on self-esteem, sense of being validated in the eyes of the community, and on the internalization of ideas of commitment and responsibility to others, something that is sorely needed in our society currently.

"Nothing is more basic from a mental health perspective to happiness and liberty than the right to love another human being with the same privileges and responsibilities as everyone else."

found the testimony of the observations of schoolteachers of the behavior of even very young students particularly enlightening as well as the psychiatric testimony regarding that, although children born to parents in civil union contracted relationships are legally legitimate, they are often not viewed as such by their peers due to the perception that only marriage conveys legitimacy and that this is a strong source of stimatization of these children, forty-three percent of whom face, at minimum, "verbal harassment" by peers in school.

The civil union status of their parents also affects children's perception of the stability and safety of their families: "youth ... report that hearing that their family can't have the same rights as other families leads them to feeling scared or confused ... They say that they think somebody is going to come and break up their family."

In contrast, children of the civilly married psychologically benefit from their parents being in a relationship defined by a word that is universally understood. For them, "It's a big deal." They have a "sense of validation of being part of a real family" -- something particularly profound for adopted children and children of divorce.

The report also dashes the seemingly reasonable hope most typically given for taking the civil union shortcut -- that civil unions will provide protection in times of medical crisis: "Civil unions create challenges to equal health care access."

Civil unions are not infrequently considered suspect or fraudulent, documentation is demanded of civil union couples in New Jersey at far higher rates than for civilly married couples in Massachusetts, for instance, and, even when provided, testimony in case after case showed that proper access was unduly postponed until authorities could be made to understand the rights involved -- with enough near-tragedies that actual tragedies are reasonably predicted should the law not be changed.

Reporting that time does not fix the problem, using Vermont as evidence, the Commission states, "even eight years after enactment, Vermont's Civil Union Law has not resulted in true equality although it purports to provide protections equal to marriage. ... [Quoting from the April, 2008, State of Vermont report,] 'Time cannot and does not mend the inequality inherent in the two separate institutions.'"

The Connecticut court also found, according to the New Jersey Final Report, that civil unions "discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation". Why would any of us ever actively promote that, especially merely to avoid what is, in reality, an unavoidable conflict and one we are getting ever closer to resolving in our favor? Are we so banal, so self-absorbedly short attention spanned, so short-sighted, and so childishly impatient to give in so soon? In light of the New Jersey and Vermont commission findings, the notion is, simply, obscene.

I strongly urge you to read Mary's full article and continue on to the full report of the New Jersey Commission and read it for yourself. It's damning stuff for people like Gino Meriano whose own business interests and self agrandizement are taking precendence over the well being of the LGBT community. If there is one man who seems to be attempting to do as much harm in our community under the guise "helping" I would be hard pressed to know who it is.

Mr. Meriano and Mr. Cotton must be stopped as these reports show. Nothing less than Civil Marriage can be accepted or acceptable and we must, must stop applauding places that grant us second class status as though they are doing something positive for our community! The only places and people deserving of our thanks and our support are those who truly believe we are equal and who are willing not to harm us with "gestures" and grants of secondary status.


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