Civil Unions or Reciprocal Benefits?

Jeff Alworth

Last night, a committee in the Oregon House listened to testimony on their version of gay rights: reciprocal benefits.  In this scheme, any two people who have a connection but can't marry are entitled to some of the rights of married couples (see text here).  It is an alternative to SB 1000, which not only offers gay and lesbian couples all  the "same privileges, immunities, rights, benefits and responsibilities under state law" as married straight couples, but prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

For many of the Measure 36 crowd, this goes way too far.  A supporter of the House bill, Oregon Family Council's Tootie Smith, thinks civil unions essentially break the law set by M36.

"Civil unions is basically gay marriage. And with the passage of Measure 36, the state of Oregon really we think said loud and clear that we think marriage should be between one man and one woman. Reciprocal benefits just doesn't single out one particular group of people based on a behavior characteristic."

According to OFC's talking points, SB 1000 threatens marriage in exactly the way gay marriages did.  Worse, according to the group, the bill would essentially give gays and lesbians the special privileges reserved for straight couples:  "SB 1000 simply adds same-sex civil unions to EVERY Oregon statute that mentions marriage.  It basically undermines the institution."  For OFC, the same rights means special rights.

The two bills aren't variations of the same things: they're polar opposites.  The Senate bill seeks to honor the spirit of the Oregon Constitution's equal-protection clause by extending rights to all committed, loving couples.  These aren't special rights; they're rights already available to most Oregonians.  The House bill, on the other hand, seeks to limit rights to gays and lesbians.  It would vastly limit the rights gay couples would receive, and worse, would self-consciously avoid acknowledging these relationships before the law.

I thought the Measure 36 arguments were disingenuous at best--the notion that straight marriage was somehow sullied by gay marriage was juvenile and bigoted.  But proponents could keep a straight face when they said it wasn't about the rights of gays and lesbians.  House Bill 3476 affords no such justification.  It's pure statutory bigotry and it's worse than nothing.  I have this feeling we're about to hear "reciprocal benefits" enter the debate as the right's newest framing device.  From where I sit, they're neither reciprocal nor benefits.  I hope people of good conscience aren't deceived.

Comments

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    Hey, M36 simply says no gay marriage. If SB1000 doesn't use the word for the union's it crafts (and it doesn't), then it's all good.

    The problem, ultimately, is caused by the same thing that was at the core of the M36 fight to begin with: Semantics.

    People bugged about gay marriage because "marriage" to them means God, and they think that way even when the word is used in a purely secular context.

    The rational answer, as ever, is the same: Civil unions for all. Remove the religiously-burdened word "marriage" from Oregon statutes altogether.

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    The rational answer, as ever, is the same: Civil unions for all.

    I'm with you on that one. The government should get out of the religious rites business.

  • Jeff Bull (unverified)
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    I wish I could take credit for this compromise, but I've got to defer to my pops on this one. It's simple and here it is:

    Let the state sanction civil unions and let churches sanction marriage.

    That way, the state extends the attendant benefits to anyone involved in a committed relationship. Churches who wish to remain (bigotedly - real word? probably not) committed to marriage between one man and one woman may do so and those who think along those lines may attend said churches. All the other religious folk who don't feel so squeamish about homosexuals kissing and taking care of one another as their lives wind down can join those churches.

    I'm close to b!x's formulation, but not entirely there. Keep marriage in the churches and have the states condone those. But the state should also recognize - and bless (dammit!) - any committed, long-term relationship between two competent, committed adults.

  • LT (unverified)
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    I am for the right of any church to set the conditions for marriage in that church--pass a marriage class, be a member of the church, whatever.

    But as I was discussing with some young people just the other day, how many judges have performed wedding ceremonies? If you go to a PTA meeting or some other gathering of parents, you're not really going to know which parents had the full church wedding and which were married by a judge or in some other non-church ceremony.

    What bothered me about some of the Measure 36 rhetoric was the idea that only those in the full church wedding were really "married" and those married by a judge were not.

    Seems to me as far back as I can remember, the marriages performed by a judge, a county clerk, a registry office or whatever were called "civil marriages" to differentiate from the full church wedding. Are some of the Measure 36 people really pushing for only church weddings to be legal?

  • Mitchell Santine Gould (unverified)
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    "Civil unions for all" is not the answer.

    And the fact that it makes so much sense is precisely why we must oppose this sentiment so strongly.

    There are two reasons "civil unions for all" is impossible:

    (A) If we tried to get the government out of the marriage business (as indeed it should be), the religio-paranoids, already afraid the sky is falling over the weakening of Marriage, would go ballistic. Think they're insufferable now? You have no idea of their capacity for their hysteria... but you would witness it then.

    (B) It would take a generation of concerted political action to change the laws to get the government out of marriage. That means many more years of lesbian and gays couples being robbed, harrassed, nickeled-and-dimed, turned away, attacked, and humilated... and did I say robbed? We will not allow anyone to sacrifice the well-being of our loving relationships by tilting at the windmill of true church-state separation.

    No, we demand fairness starting today.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)
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    Equal protection is equally protected if straight folks had to look exclusively to the Reciprocal Benefit law for their own benefits. Neither straights nor gays have an inherent right to extract public dollars to reward them for the public display of sexual preference.

    The Reciprocal Benefit law, if passed, would give a judge a baseline minimum set of privileges (not immunities) for straights when the marriage laws are properly voided under the equal protection laws in the Oregon constitution. This would give straights no less benefits (in compliance with equal protection) than that accorded to gays, in the event that the marriage laws are struck as void under equal protection. M36 has not more value than the name appended to a certificate that gets registered.

  • panchopdx (unverified)
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    Ron,

    Right on point.

    Instead of "Civil Unions for All" we could have "Reciprocal Benefits for All."

    So support the Recip-Benes measure and then sue to overturn any statutory marital benefits that are not included within it.

    It is still an open question whether M36 insulates existing marital benefits from a privileges and immunities challenge (I think it might, but it is worth a challenge).

  • ron ledbury (unverified)
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    panchopdx,

    My perspective is that of happy straight cohabitators whom the religious marriage advocates, both gay and straight, want to limit to marriage or nothing; not even reciprocal benefits. No equal protection at all, I tell yah.

    I think b!X is seeing the light as I have been whining all along.

    The true scope of M36 could turn on a search for legislative history in the debate (rather than the mere text of the amendment) in which case it is a total crap shoot. This is grist for politicizing the election of judges. Oh happy day.

  • (Show?)

    The civil unions bill and the reciprocal benefits bill are not polar opposites. They address different issues. We should not oppose reciprocal benefits, just insist that they are not a substitute for civil unions for same sex couples.

    We should support reciprocal benefits for the various kinds of mutual support arrangements that it turns out Oregonians engage in, which this bill has brought out of the woodwork. Apparently it's not sexual orientation, or even a sexual relationship, but love that makes a family. Who'd 'a thunk it?

    Moreover, Democrats should come up with a stronger version of reciprocal benefits than the anemic Republican offering. It should be shaped by what strengthens families and communities, not by the fact that it doesn't cost anything according to the lights of a conservative legislator.

    Dems should craft a Senate bill that would force a conference debate that could bring out these points, and have a parallel bill offered in the House as a substitute for the Republican version.

    Used the right way, reciprocal benefits can be a great tool for widening understanding that families come in many forms, and that it's a good thing they do.

    Same sex couples still need to have the strongest possible option for legal-social recognition of their relationships, for getting the protections and assuming the concomitant obligations of legally formalizing the relationships, that we can muster. Right now that's civil unions. This is an equal protection issue and should be distinguished that way.

    If defining them so that heterosexual couples could form them too would enhance chances of passing a law, it should be done that way; if keeping them focused on same-sex couples has the better chance, it should go that way.

    We should not be suckered into letting the issue of equal protection be posed against the issue of strengthening conditions for mutual support within family and friendship networks. We should articulate the difference and support both civil unions and reciprocal benefits.

    Ideally we should try to do this in a way that helps lay groundwork for eventual repeal of Measure 36.

  • (Show?)

    b!x writes The rational answer, as ever, is the same: Civil unions for all. Remove the religiously-burdened word "marriage" from Oregon statutes altogether.

    With all due (should I say "I do"?) respect...look up "marriage" in Webster's and there's NO reference to religion.

    Marriage IS a secular, not religious, concept. And take away the right to "marry" --or turn that over to the churches-- and you take on a fight with us "straight" marrieds who find "civil union" a less than romantic concept. ("Would you join me in a civil union?" lacks the romance of "would you marry me?)

    Sorry...I asked my wife to marry me, not join a "civil union." That's something that should be available to ALL adults, regardless of sexual, political or religious orientation. It's not that complicated. Ultimately it's a fight against intolerance...not a fight about words.

  • Marshall Collins (unverified)
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    I totally agree with b!x. In response to Frank you could call your union anything you want. The point is that in the eyes of the government you will be joined in civil union. If you want to refer to yourselves as married, life partnered, one in covenant, or whatever that is between you, your partner, and your beliefs. Take my husband and I. We were joined together by a minister into a Holy Bond of Covenant. But when people ask we say we are married, refer to each other as husband and show people our wedding photos. True we didn't have a marriage ceremony. But it is our belief that in our hearts and in the eyes of our creator that we are married. What b!x was trying to say was that Marriage (or whatever name you want to give it) is a RITE while civil unions and equal treatment should be a RIGHT. I do agree that its ultimately a fight against intolerence but until the theocracy in this country is mature enough to realize this, then we will have to continue fighting over words.

  • dispossessed (unverified)
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    ".I asked my wife to marry me, not join a "civil union." That's something that should be available to ALL adults, regardless of sexual, political or religious orientation. It's not that complicated. Ultimately it's a fight against intolerance...not a fight about words."

    I will engage you in a fight about "intolerance." Let's fight about that word. It is a buzzword and a heavily loaded one.

    No one would argue tolerance for everything. Or even for intolerance of all intolerance. There is no precision to this word; it is all ambiguity and implication. And in this context just boils down, again, to the definitions of marriage.

    What is almost always missing from these discussions in my view is the recognition of tradition gone on for most all of history in most everywhere.

    I assure you that I have had gay friends for all of my life. I am middle-aged. Even growing up in a small Southern Oregon town, we had neighbors a couple of houses away who were two adult women whose family unit was never to my knowledge either addressed or questioned -- just quietly accepted.

    But the "gay marriage" issue burst onto the scene, and to most people it was new, unheard of, a surprise and a shock. All the self-righteousness and the demands in the world seem to fail to take into account that people need time (and tactics) to incorporate new ideas.

    The fury and the process by which this one was pushed in Multnomah County backfired on those who wanted it most. There is a lesson here. And it, too, requires a little ... well .... tolerance.

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    Most of the recorded history of marraige world wide shows it to be a transfer of property (a woman and assets assigned to her)to a man. Historically, heterosexual monogamy has been adopted by Judeo Christians as a norm (again usually in the context of a transfer of property).

    I don't see anything there worth retaining in the context of an enlightened 21st century society.

    Let the religious institutions set the rules for their "flocks". The state should focus only on the legal aspects of these contracts. This "one man one woman" thing is part and parcel of the idea of a "nuclear family" with an unrestrained male head of household is very new and very artificial. The tribal (extended) family is in eclipse and the restraint imposed by the community on nuclear family behavior is sorely missed.

    As it says in the Bible: Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasars, and unto God that which is God's.

  • (Show?)

    The civil unions bill and the reciprocal benefits bill are not polar opposites. They address different issues. We should not oppose reciprocal benefits, just insist that they are not a substitute for civil unions for same sex couples.

    They do address different issues, but from my reading, that's a red herring. The GOP is dangling reciprocal benefits (RB) in front of people with no personal stake in the debate to give them a personal stake. Why? Because it's clear from the rhetoric of the pro-RB crowd that most of the purpose behind RBs aren't to give sisters some additional benefits, it's to keep gay and lesbian couples disenfranchized before the law.

    They don't equivocate on this point. The pro-RB crowd think gay and lesbian couples shouldn't have the rights of straight couples. They believe losing their special status sullies their own bond (bizarre, but true). The only way Dems should support reciprocal benefits is specifically for non-romantic couples. For everyone else, there should be civil unions (sorry, hadda tie it back into the other thread!).

  • panchopdx (unverified)
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    The only way Dems should support reciprocal benefits is specifically for non-romantic couples

    Why should the state worry about whether a couple is romantic?

    The best available route is to call the R's bluff and support RB's. Then gay couples should sue to overturn any special benefits for het married folks that are not included within the RB package.

    Should you lose that challenge (it's an open question) then you can pursue a legislative agenda to equalize benefits.

    In the meantime, gay couples should refer to themselves as "married" people. Scoff openly at the authority of the state government to consider them otherwise. It will connect with het-couples who don't require gov't validation of their marriage before considering it meaningful.

    Ask them "if the government stopped recognizing het marriages tomorrow, would you suddenly consider yourself unmarried?"

    But I'm getting the distinct impression that this is more about social validation of SSM's as a romantic relationship rather than equal treatment of partnered couples under the law. That is the same sort of tactical overreach that landed the gay rights movement in this position to begin with.

    For those of us who oppose government validation of any romantic partnership (I don't need the government to validate my marriage), why would we entertain expanding the number of special government-validated romantic partnerships?

    I voted against M36, but if government-validation of your romantic relationship is ultimately your goal, count me out.

  • allehseya (unverified)
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    "I voted against M36, but if government-validation of your romantic relationship is ultimately your goal, count me out."

    Actually, the goal is removing 'government validation' of how we choose to define our relationships, whether they be romantic, non-romantic, gay, straight or religiously centered -- it's not the business of government to define the paramaters of validity for those relationships -- not its place to validate who we can and cannot 'marry' based on religion. What happened to 'separation of church and state'? Nor is it the role of government to deny us entering into a civil union if we choose it.

    While, "civil unions for all" makes perfect sense -- it doesnt really address the larger issue:

    that we have a government that infringes on our civil liberties based on religious dogma in a country that is supposed to function in such a way that specifically ensures those liberties for all. Replacing 'civil union' for 'marriage' doesnt change this sad fact.

  • allehseya (unverified)
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    As far as the issue Jeff posted on -- (to stay on-topic) I second this:

    "It's pure statutory bigotry and it's worse than nothing."

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    They do address different issues, but from my reading, that's a red herring. The GOP is dangling reciprocal benefits (RB) in front of people with no personal stake in the debate to give them a personal stake. Why? Because it's clear from the rhetoric of the pro-RB crowd that most of the purpose behind RBs aren't to give sisters some additional benefits, it's to keep gay and lesbian couples disenfranchized before the law.

    This is true, but the political question is whether they are succeeding in getting enough people to feel they do have a personal stake, and convincing others with no personal stake in either that to support civil unions will be to deny something to people they want to support.

    I submit that it's not just a red herring, but a piece of bait, and that opposing it because of the motives behind it may be to take the bait and help them make the red herring look like it's swimming. They are saying, "you have to choose between favoring gays and lesbians or including these people (who btw are more worthy)" and making the implicit appeal to prejudice more palatable because it is pro-something/ someone rather than openly anti-.

    Maybe maybe what I said needs better strategic and tactical nuance, relating to time, say along the lines of "we're not opposed to reciprocal benefits, but we insist on civil unions first because of the fundamental issue of moving toward equal rights; then we will also support reciprocal benefits, but we won't support them without civil unions." If the GOPers refuse that, it will start to make clear that they are just using these other folks. It also might provide some cover for Rs who will be needed if civil unions are to pass in the House. I'd suggest that consulting with such folks about how to respond to this red herring might be a good thing to do, because it may be aimed at them, politically, as much as anyone.

    And I still think it is a mistake of both strategy and principle to oppose reciprocal benefits flatly, just because some in the GOP are proposing a self-serving and anemic version of them. That's letting them call the tune. We can make a much better response that repels their effort to mislead people into thinking these are mutually exclusive alternatives, and brings into focus the fact that the idea of reciprocal benefits itself concedes the crucial fact that families come in many forms, which deserve recognition.

  • (Show?)

    What b!x was trying to say was that Marriage (or whatever name you want to give it) is a RITE while civil unions and equal treatment should be a RIGHT.

    "Marriage" is not "the name I want to give it" it is the state of being married which is NOT a "rite" of ANY religion, but, in fact, a status given by the State, NOT the Church.

    We do NOT make selling equality of rights for gay couples easier by taking up the battle cry of "civil unions for all." Surrendering the secular word "marriage" is NOT going to be OK with the millions of people who marry outside the churches, who will feel disenfranchised by the notion they can ONLY get "married" by the religious authorities.

    I'm sorry that "gay marriage" disturbs some people. They need to get over it. THAT'S the heart of the problem, not coming up with a clever new word for marriage.

  • dispossessed (unverified)
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    I'm sorry that "gay marriage" disturbs some people. They need to get over it.

    The point I try unsuccessfully to make is that when societal norms and institutions have been one way for hundreds or thousands of years, across all kinds of times and cultures and countries, snootily or impatiently telling people to "get over it" just about defines "intolerant."

    It's a microcosm (or the new focal point) of political polarization. So just make sure that that, also, is what you want, and know that all bets are turned into double or nothing.

  • (Show?)

    The point I try unsuccessfully to make is that when societal norms and institutions have been one way for hundreds or thousands of years, across all kinds of times and cultures and countries, snootily or impatiently telling people to "get over it" just about defines "intolerant."

    "Societal norms..." Now THERE'S a good one! "Institutions." Indeed.

    Give women the vote! Oh my God! Abolish slavery...oh, no...after THOUSANDS of years as a societal normative value? No, no...we must move s-l-o-w-e-r...

    Sorry...you're right, I've NO tolerance of bigotry, and ignorance. Impatient? Snooty? High falutin'?

    Good grief. What's wrong with standing for the simple equality of rights for people, gay or straight. Period. Don't make a bigger deal of this then it is...or a lesser one. You DO need to take a stand though.

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)
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    First of all, every one of you who thinks that if we just call it something different -- "civil unions" instead of "gay marriage", that then the wacko rightos will go stick their heads under a pillow and say "uncle", are sadly deluded.

    The anti "homo" groups hate civil unions, just as much as they hate gay marraige. They see it, quite rightly as a domino move. They will fight it just as fiercely as they have fought gay marriage.

    I do support working for civil unions, because organizations of those most affected, gay and lesbians working for their rights, have decided to put their efforts there. I think they are the folks who have everything to gain, or to lose, and I will therefor support their choice of battle-front.

    But, don't kid yourself, it will be a battle, still.

    And, if you think you're going to take Kansas with this goofy "We're all going to be "civil unioned now" notion, sorry...

    You'd be much better off putting your time into something that might actually be possible -- like universal health care, or getting us out of Iraq.

    Getting us all "civil unioned"?

    Get real.

  • dispossessed (unverified)
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    "Societal norms..." Now THERE'S a good one! "Institutions." Indeed.

    Well, which wag was it who said, "Marriage is a great institution. And who wants to be in an institution?"

    Give women the vote! Oh my God! Abolish slavery...oh, no...after THOUSANDS of years as a societal normative value? No, no...we must move s-l-o-w-e-r...

    Gee, Frank, how long did those take?

    Sorry...you're right, I've NO tolerance of bigotry, and ignorance. Impatient? Snooty? High falutin'?

    So your "NO tolerance" got you a constitutional amendment. Happy now?

    Good grief. What's wrong with standing for the simple equality of rights for people, gay or straight. Period. Don't make a bigger deal of this then it is...or a lesser one. You DO need to take a stand though.

    Who is making the bigger deal? You are calling for a revolution, and revolutions take time. They are better made in thought than in war.

    History has lots of lessons.

  • (Show?)

    Dispossessed gloats: So your "NO tolerance" got you a constitutional amendment. Happy now?

    Ah, yes..."and it was this kind of insolent, provocative, and uncompromising behavior on the part of the patriots that was responsible for the crisis with the mother country..." Dispossesed would, I imagine, be found standing on the sidelines of that revolution saying let's not get King George upset! ("The Loyalist Perception" -Robert Calhoon)

    Bigotry gave us (and it's a cancer not just in Oregon, but spreading across the country) a constitutional amendment and it is a principled stand AGAINST that bigotry --and the damage it does to our fellow human beings every day-- that will change it. Not whimpering and whining about thousands of years of "tradition" and self-satisfied harrumphing about "see what you've done NOW?"

  • dispossessed (unverified)
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    It wasn't a gloat. It was a mirror. You're so sure that your feelings are on the right side of humanity, Frank, that you don't care what your actions do -- or what others' feelings are.

    I'm not calling "bigotry" on people who for very long and understandable reasons think that (sit down, everybody; this is pretty radical) marriage is a between a man and a woman.

    So it has ever been. If you want to change that, make the case fairly, not by screaming and name-calling.

    Which tends to backfire.

    Which isn't a gloat.

  • (Show?)

    You're so sure that your feelings are on the right side of humanity, Frank, that you don't care what your actions do -- or what others' feelings are.

    I played buffer between an ex brother-in-law who died of AIDS and his Baptist father. Don't tell me I don't care about people's feelings, or underestimate the passions and feelings involved.

    I'm not calling "bigotry" on people who for very long and understandable reasons think that (sit down, everybody; this is pretty radical) marriage is a between a man and a woman.

    You're entitled to believe what you believe. I could care less what you believe...except when you tell others what THEY should believe, and demand how THEY should act. Opposed to gay marriage? Then stay in a straight marriage.

    If you want to change that, make the case fairly, not by screaming and name-calling.

    I go by the Multnomah County office on Hawthorne every morning. The people on line to get married were full of love and joy and full of the promise of being equal citizens. The screamers were in the streets, yelling about the wrath of God. I say God save us from these pious bigots.

  • allehseya (unverified)
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    Main Entry: mar·riage Pronunciation: 'mer-ij, 'ma-rij Function: noun Etymology: Middle English mariage, from Anglo-French, from marier to marry 1 a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage=""> b : the mutual relation of married persons : WEDLOCK c : the institution whereby individuals are joined in a marriage 2 : an act of marrying or the rite by which the married status is effected; especially : the wedding ceremony and attendant festivities or formalities 3 : an intimate or close union <the marriage="" of="" painting="" and="" poetry="" --="" j.="" t.="" shawcross="">

    Main Entry: big·ot Pronunciation: 'bi-g&t Function: noun Etymology: Middle French, hypocrite, bigot : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices - big·ot·ed /-g&-t&d/ adjective - big·ot·ed·ly adverb

    Main Entry: 1prej·u·dice Pronunciation: 'pre-j&-d&s Function: noun Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin praejudicium previous judgment, damage, from prae- + judicium judgment -- more at JUDICIAL 1 : injury or damage resulting from some judgment or action of another in disregard of one's rights; especially : detriment to one's legal rights or claims 2 a (1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b : an instance of such judgment or opinion c : an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

    I do believe that "bigot" applies, Dispossessed.

  • dispossessed (unverified)
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    Why do I think we're just not managing a dialogue here?

  • (Show?)

    Good lord--this thread is still alive. Reading through here, I'm not sure what the debate is. Seems like everyone's on the same team, but at varying degrees. Or am I missing something?

  • allehseya (unverified)
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    Seems like everyone's on the same team, but at varying degrees. Or am I missing something?

    <h2>Jeff, the varying degrees are in regards to how much one is willing to accept that we compromise our civil liberties, our rights. Some of us have a zero compromise level in that regard while others of us deem that compromise is necessary.</h2>

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