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November 4, 2002
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The art of being Canadian is often making do. Same-sex marriage is a national hot-button issue right now. What rights should homosexual partners have? What does it mean to the church? There comes a new option in the debate: civil union, not quite marriage, but more than just shacking-up. Will this be enough to satisfy as many as possible under the circumstances?
posted by bonehead (24 comments total)

 
I wonder if our children and grandchildren will look at people today opposed to gay marriages the same way that we look at segregationists.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:13 PM on November 4, 2002


Civil union has been going in France for a few years now (it's called the PACS). In Paris, it's just become part of the culture, although some small-town provincial mayors are practicing passive resistance. Of course, there are about 10 times fewer people who affiliate with religion in France than in the US (don't know about Canada), so the controversy was pretty limited.

The real social change involved is to separate the religious tradition of marriage from the legal contract of two people declaring themselves to the state as a couple. France had it easy because they already had this separation. Many people would have two wedding ceremonies: once in church, and once in city hall. Church weddings have never had any legal recognition, only the contract signed in city hall is legal.

One interesting consequence is that civil union has made some of the more extreme "queer identity" people uncomfortable. They see gays getting "married" as a concession to straight society's ideas about monogamy.
posted by fuzz at 12:17 PM on November 4, 2002


fuzz, I don't consider myself "extreme", but yet I'll never understand why homosexuals, who have always in my memory set trends in non-essential human arts as fashion and entertainment, meekly follow their heterosexual brethren in their desires to "be part of" the more "important" social institutions.

Emulating heterosexual unions is wrong, given the staggering failure rate of same. We should instead be leaders in this area of society as well, and the benefits will follow. Declaim that *no* government or institution has a right to govern or legislate how two or more consenting adults choose to express their romantic and spiritual involvement one with the other. Reject any offers such institutions may hand out. Live for the love and the partnership, not the benefits it will bring you from state and employer and society. Yes, there will be suffering along the way. You can't have it easy all the time. Lead by example, don't take the handouts from someone wanting you to follow a practice doomed to failure more than 50 per cent of the time.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2002


WolfDaddy, it has nothing to do with wanting to emulate social institutions. It's about being legally recognized so that I will not be banned from my dying partner's hospital bedside, so that I can make health decisions for him when he is unable to because only he and I have discussed what would happen in that case, so that I can reap the benefits of his social security and pension the way married couples do, so that I don't have to worry about fringe members of his family or the state swooping in after his death and claiming half my house, so that any children we have together are legally both of ours, so that I can have the same privileges and/or rights that any married couple has. It's very easy to dismiss this stuff and say "Live for the love" but the world is a lot crueler than that. Please tell me when gay people have had it easy? I guess "easy" means being allowed to live in your neighborhoods and teach in your schools and practice in your hospitals without being clubbed over the head?

I personally couldn't care less what any church thinks about gay marriage. I want the legal right to marry for legal/civil/financial reasons, not spiritual.

And forget all the great gay artists of "essential" human art. We're forever the fashion stylists and the florists. Ha!
posted by archimago at 1:07 PM on November 4, 2002


archimago, the Anglican and United churches, in Canada at least, have driven the issue. The Anglican church legally married two couples last year in Toronto though a common-law loophole. The United church has been in favour of it for years, decades, going so far as to have a gay Moderator as it's head. It's fair to say that without the churches pushing, this would not be a significant issue in Canada right now.
posted by bonehead at 1:23 PM on November 4, 2002


What rights should homosexual partners have?

Better question: Why should they have any fewer rights than heterosexual partners? Let's keep the burden of proof where it belongs.
posted by boredomjockey at 1:53 PM on November 4, 2002


Why should they have any fewer rights than heterosexual partners? Let's keep the burden of proof where it belongs.

My understanding is that current legislation, in most cases, only supports heterosexual marriage. If that's the case (I could be mistaken), then wouldn't the burden of proof be upon those who want to change the existing legislation?
posted by oissubke at 2:34 PM on November 4, 2002


what archimago said-perfectly!

and the burden of proof is on the government to remove the inequality in denying rights and benefits (and responsibilities too) to many adult citizens. (and voters!) Here's a partial list
posted by amberglow at 2:41 PM on November 4, 2002


oissubke: a deeply conservative view, one which we heard many times in the battle for civil rights all over the world. A view that is being trotted out by mullahs and rabbi's and vicars all over the world as we speak: the' fallacy of tradition' but in new garb, it's old wine in new bottles.

Well, the wine's gone off, the diners are fed up asking for the same menu as the couples on the other tables, and maybe taking business elsewhere (Canada, France, the Netherlands & Scandinavia are all closer to 'consumer satisfaction' than the Land of the Free, it seems) which will lead to recognition via the back door.

"What did you do in the equality wars, daddy?"
"I was on the losing side, son - I didn't want your sort to marry."

posted by dash_slot- at 3:16 PM on November 4, 2002


When this issue came up in sweden 1994 the church objected to have anything to do with it. We have had for a long time the option to get married either in church or in at the local government institution.
The solution was then to have a civil union, in itself discriminating since it treats gay-marriages different to heterosexual marriages, called registered partnership. Problem arises when being applied outside Sweden where register partnership is not counted as marriage.

We are now trying to change it so it all will fall under the same law. In particularly since we have won the other war for the right to be tried for adoption.

The law text (in swedish)
posted by blink at 3:32 PM on November 4, 2002


I am all for the complex solution. In other words, just a simple yes/no to homosexual marriage is not enough, *if* you consider the vast amount of law surrounding "straight" marriage. Someone should promulgate rules ahead of time--not just assume that the 'heterosexual rules' will be sufficient.
For instance, the legal associations between two gay men might be worlds apart from those of two lesbians. Concepts like 'alimony', 'child support', death benefits, death taxes, and Social Security should NOT be left up to the judgement of a judge as they are now--or you can expect to see horrific abuses of judicial authority.
There's a good chance you will see the equivalent of two black men in a civil lawsuit, with a racist judge looking to hurt both of them.
posted by kablam at 3:36 PM on November 4, 2002


archimago:

*yawn*

All you did for me with your rant was prove that you have the ability to enter into a partnership with someone based partially on the things you will NOT be receiving rather than what you yourself will provide to said partnership. In other words, you are forming a partnership expecting benefits you have no demonstrable reason to expect in our current cruel world. Therefore, it's incumbent upon you to struggle ... the struggle to attain some measure of equality for homosexuals is called a struggle for a reason, you know. It's not the "comfortable quilting bee for gay rights".

If you are *truly* worried about a hospital denying you the "right" to make a decision concerning someone else's health, then please share with us the names of the hospital administrator, chief of medical staff, and head of nursing for your chosen hospital, and what communications you've had with them regarding this issue.

If you are *truly* worried that "fringe" elements of either your family or your partner's family may harm your partnership, then please share with us how you maintain good relations with the non-"fringe" elements of both families, and what you've done to help them counteract the notions this "fringe" element provides them and with which your partnership is threatened.

If you are *truly* worried that you will be denied your partner's Social Security benefits, please tell me what you've done to ensure you'll receive your own when the time comes, that you have faith in the Social Security system as a whole, rather than just what it can do for you and yours.

If you haven't considered these things, you should never have come out to anyone but yourself, because you obviously aren't prepared to risk very much of anything to get what you want. And because this world *is* cruel, you may have to risk everything, including your life, to get your way. And I'm sorry, but you seem sadly unprepared for this type of struggle. Which, also sad to say, is all too typical of many of the loudest people screaming for gay rights.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:37 PM on November 4, 2002


I wonder if our children and grandchildren will look at people today opposed to gay marriages the same way that we look at segregationists.

Most rational and reasonable people look at those people that way now.

"I ain't got nothin' against those faggots, but I wouldn't want one of 'em marryin' my daughter!"
posted by majcher at 3:42 PM on November 4, 2002


wolfdaddy; sure it is a cruel world, but why should it be more cruel to gay people than straight people. Surely benefits will fade away from everybody as the world is moving but is there a particular reason why there should be difference between a homosexual relation and heterosexual relation?
posted by blink at 4:06 PM on November 4, 2002


Wolfdaddy:

fuzz, I don't consider myself "extreme", but yet I'll never understand why homosexuals, who have always in my memory set trends in non-essential human arts as fashion and entertainment, meekly follow their heterosexual brethren in their desires to "be part of" the more "important" social institutions.

Translation:

"I don't want to get married, so I won't support anyone who wishes to do so but can't."

It still amazes me that some gay people are capable of so little understanding and compassion towards those who want to lead different lives. Marriage may be a flawed institution, but that makes it no less important to those of us who cherish it -- are we to sacrifice some people's happiness and security in a (probably vain) attempt to change social norms for the next generation? Why do you think you have the right to insist that other people be the martyrs for your cause?

Your "if you are *truly* worried" spiel is nonsense that I don't think even you believe. Of course there are workarounds for some of the inequalities between marriage and cohabitation, and of course not all of the problems are equal in importance. Big friggin' deal. An option available to some should be available to all unless just cause can be shown to restrict it.

As for the burden of proof question...the reason it falls on the opponents of gay marriage and not the supporters is that our constitutional rights are inalienable. Laws that are not constitutional are irrelevant; they're just waiting for the courts to strike them down. If the homophobes can't find a real rationale for keeping marriage as a straight-only institution, there is (theoretically) no choice but to extend benefits to all who want them.
posted by Epenthesis at 4:49 PM on November 4, 2002


oissubke writes: My understanding is that current legislation, in most cases, only supports heterosexual marriage. If that's the case (I could be mistaken), then wouldn't the burden of proof be upon those who want to change the existing legislation?

The law used to only support voting rights for men, not women. There was no "burden of proof" involved in changing the law, merely the recognition by enough people that the disenfranchisement of women was morally insupportable.

I would also say something about race and the civil rights act of 1964, but introducing race tends to be inflammatory and I think the above case should be sufficient.

Where civil marriage is granted in law to any consenting couple it should be granted to all consenting couples. (And before anyone brings up bestiality or child marriage, there are applicable legal definitions of "consent".)
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:23 PM on November 4, 2002


Epenthesis,
Thanks for your interpretation of my statements. It's (probably 100% intentionally) wrong, but thanks all the same.

If you modified your "It still amazes me that some gay people" to "It still amazes me that some children of failed marriages" you'd probably be a little closer to understanding, yourself. Of course, this all depends on whether or not you yourself define yourself by who you fuck, and discount the other life experiences you've had.

Your "if you are *truly* worried" spiel is nonsense that I don't think even you believe.

Mmmm. Thanks again. At the time I was trying to change the way AIDS patients were being treated at a certain local hospital, the administrator's last name was Bigelow, the chief of medical staff's first name was John, and the head nurse's first name was Patricia. I got to know all of them, and see their point of view.

They also saw mine. What happened after that was pretty cool.

blink: as you can see, there's not even unity amongst those who consider themselves "for" gay rights, so the question of illustrating the differences between gay and straight relationships will net you vastly different answers depending upon who you ask, so ask around :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:02 PM on November 4, 2002


I hate to join in on jumping on you, Wolfdaddy, but everything you just asked of archimago was none of your business. As in "it's none of your business what I do in my own bedroom." As in "it's none of your business what consenting adults want to do together." That applies to sex, and it applies to marriage. If people wanted to force gays to marry their partners, I think you'd be right. But no one (leaving religions out of this bit) is remotely suggesting that it would be a requirement--straight people can remain single if they so choose, and allowing gay people to marry would simply extend that choice to them. Personally, I think the legal/medical benefits of marriage should either be extended to all domestic partnerships or eliminated (financial incentives to get married, for instance). But like Epenthsis said, it's hardly your right to demand that other people sacrifice their own happiness for yours.
posted by hippugeek at 6:13 PM on November 4, 2002


WD: I think you are too harsh on archie. indeed - harsher than you have been on oissubke, whom you ignored, tho' he has done his usual trollish, hit'n'run tactic (feck that: he is just getting a big fat IGNORE! next time we're in the same thread).

I'd like to hear more about your ideas on new/radical ways of relating, not emulating so-called 'straight' institutions: maybe you could find the time to send me an email, or post a reply here with links here, or a Mefi post on the topic?

Also - it bothers me that we can so quickly fragment: that plays into the hands of the Tory/Republican. How come we dont have a common agenda?
Some parts of our liberation will have the flavour of conservative imitation, others will be more groundbreaking and transformative. As hippugeek says, its not all mandatory - and you'll get a chance to dress up for some fab parties. What could be nicer?
V. late here, i'm aware im not making a lot of clarity... see youse all tomorrow...
posted by dash_slot- at 8:09 PM on November 4, 2002


How come we dont have a common agenda?
that plays into the hands of the Tory/Republican

The only way, I guess, to answer this question is to ask you look at the diversity with which heterosexuals practice the thing called "life". Look at the colors, and the cultures, and the religions, and the rites of passage, and the diets and problems and pleasures and addictions.

Pretty diverse, that grouping of people. Now consider that the only other grouping that will yield you the same amount of diversity is that grouping of people who are not heterosexual.

And all that that implies.

Again, I come to my views on this issue as a child of divorce. Many other children of divorce of my acquaintance are also of my opinion when it comes to the question of granting more people access to this very flawed and very cherished institution, and our numbers are not insignificant.

So, sorry, dash_slot- ... it looks like I'll have to choose one classification over another when deciding my views on the subject of marriage, and to be honest, the classification of "child of divorce" will usually always win over "gay" or "straight" or "polkadotted". This will most likely be true for a large number of people whose parents divorced before they themselves attained self-sufficiency.

As to my views, it's my strong opinion (as a child of divorce) that the loudest of the people who advocate the idea that non-heterosexuals should be afforded the same 'privilege' to enter the (very cherished, very flawed) institution of marriage do so at the risk of completely ignoring the idea that the institution of marriage by its very design may not be able to withstand the introduction of the limitless sexual combinations it's being asked to accept and to which its being asked to adapt itself.

The institution of marriage is, and always has been over thousands of years, designed to easily facilitate only one form of sexual expression: one man, one woman, monagamous, for life.

Now go take a look at a (seemingly very large, and growing larger) part of our world the way it stands today: there are countless "married M4M" chat rooms. Countless "bicurious 1st time F4F" places. Countless "Amateur Straight Frat Boys" websites. Countless items that subvert the institution of marriage as it's expected to be practiced (one man, one woman, monogamous, for life), countless numbers of people who willingly participate in that subversion (married people, and non-heterosexual people who sleep with married people and help them pretend it's okay). Pornographers and the board of directors over at AOL/Time-Warner understand something about human sexuality even if they deny it like the rest of us have done for, oh, forever: bisexuals outnumber true hetero- and homosexuals by the billions. They are the largest single silent majority ever to grace the history of this species. They are the victims of an apartheid practiced by gays and straights alike, and we all accept it to the point that most people adhere to a binary labeling system full well knowing such a system doesn't suit them or anyone else they know. Hell, the older I get the more hard pressed I am to look back on my life and come to the conclusion that I'm 100% homosexual despite the fact that I've never shared an orgasm with anyone but those of my own gender. To do so would insult the memories and people involved with a lot of valuable life experiences I've been through. Insult them beyond belief.

Marriage was not ever designed to accept that uncomfortable truth. It was designed to deny it, and has become If you can show me how the institution can survive the introduction of the infinite when the majority of the people who practice it cannot and would not survive such an introduction, I'll be all for it.

As it is, the only thing I can envision is a compromise: let everyone be able to marry and receive the attendant benefits. But by law you wouldn't be able to make such a commitment until at least the age of thirty. Envisioning this compromise may be my own failing and lack of ability to see any other way. There may be other ways, and some of the more locally-flavored policies starting to appear in some cities may be a start. I don't hold high hopes, though. There's too much inertia being fought, quite possibly the greatest inertia that's ever been fought, and the forces being brought to bear are correspondingly great. Usually in our history when faced with such straits, destruction is not far behind. Hopefully we'll all have a nicer building to live in after the old one falls down on us.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:23 AM on November 5, 2002


grr

and has become
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:27 AM on November 5, 2002


the institution of marriage by its very design may not be able to withstand the introduction of the limitless sexual combinations it's being asked to accept and to which its being asked to adapt itself

Of course it can. It's a perfectly boring legal status, not terribly different from a general business partnership, that changes a lot of the legal defaults to accommodate two people who want to share their lives indefinitely. And substituting in "N" for two and "indefinitely or for some fixed period" are not insurmountable.

People tend to tart it up with a lot of religious and moral sentiment, as you're doing, but a legal marriage merely flips a bunch of switches about who has what legal rights over what. That's it. It's a contractual relationship, as utterly boring and devoid of moral or religious content as any other.

Don't make everyone else live their lives according to how yours is fucked up. Other people's lives are fucked up in massively different ways.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:24 AM on November 5, 2002


Who says this is a hot button issue in Canada?

Maybe if your a right wing nut from middle-of-nowhere-land, but I'm pretty in urban centers it's pretty much a non-issue. Canadians are a tolerant lot.
posted by Leonard at 7:52 AM on November 5, 2002


Wolfdaddy, how often are straihgt couples asked to justify their relationships based on what they bring to the partnership? I have every demonstrable reason to expect the same legal rights as my hetero bothers and sisters. I'm in America after all, at least the last time I looked out my window.

Your argument reminds me of all those parents who say "Kids are cruel. Boys will be boys" instead of teaching their children that discrimination and teasing are inappropriate displays of power over the less powerful. Instead of working to change the cruel world, just accept it as cruel. There are some things I will struggle for, and there are some things I shouldn't have to struggle for. And do me a favor and do not assume anything about how much or how little I have struggled in my life.

The institution of marriage is, and always has been over thousands of years, designed to easily facilitate only one form of sexual expression: one man, one woman, monagamous, for life.

Do you have any knowledge of other cultures other than your own?

All that you stated in your reply to my post has nothing to do with why I should or should not be given the same legal rights as anyone else. Whether or not I have my own SS benefits has nothing to do with the argument over whether I should be able to receive my partner's.

And just for the record, I have a safe deposit box filled with papers that cost me thousands of dollars in legal and court fees to ensure that I have the same rights with my partner as married couples have automatically by virtue of a legal marriage (medical proxy, power of attorney, inheritance rights, you name it).
posted by archimago at 8:25 AM on November 5, 2002


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