"Civil Unions?" Never Heard of 'em.

Kristin Flickinger

In last week’s Senate hearing on HB 2007, the Oregon Family Council trotted out a new version of one of their most favorite – and weakest – arguments.

Nick Graham, spokesperson for the OFC called HB 2007 “too vague”, complaining that it is "a bill we don't ultimately know the outcome of." And, it’s not just the new name that’s confusing Nick. A couple of weeks ago this bill was called “Civil Unions,” and he was complaining just as loudly.

It is the argument to which members of the Oregon Family Council continually return – that, although they said they weren’t opposed to “Civil Unions” during the Measure 36 campaign, they didn't know what a "Civil Union" was, because it wasn't defined at the time.

In fact, during the 2004 campaign, there was only one state that had Civil Unions - Vermont. Connecticut, the next state to acquire Civil Unions, didn't do so until April 20, 2005. Interestingly, exactly one year earlier, an Oregon judge required the Oregon legislature to "produce legislation that would balance the substantive rights of same-sex domestic partners with those of opposite-sex married couples". In doing so, he referred to Massachusetts' marriage system and Vermont's Civil Union system as appropriate solutions.

"Vermont-style Civil Unions" were the only Civil Unions that existed during the Measure 36 campaign, and the exact thing to which Nashif and the other OFC folks were referring when they said they weren't opposed.

Now those unions are the exact thing they have threatened to refer.

Comments

  • RKM (unverified)
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    To assume that those in opposition to legal recognition of homosexual partnerships will advocate for their positions in a consistent and rational manner is folly. It's no surprise that they would take this tack here.

    Social conservatives are struggling against the tides of history. Even a cursory reading of American history reveals the fact that each generation has moved generally toward a more tolerant and open attitude toward social issues. Women’s suffrage in the early part of the twentieth century and the more recent Civil Rights movement are just two examples of this trend.

    And the more desperate and frustrated social conservatives become as they try to hold back the weather, the more of these poorly constructed and disingenuous arguments they’ll put forward.

    Time is not on their side.

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    To assume that those in opposition to legal recognition of homosexual partnerships will advocate for their positions in a consistent and rational manner is folly.

    To the contrary, they are completely consistent.

    They consistently argue only and precisely what they need to argue in order to convince people to enact their religious bigotry into law, and no more than that.

    It lets them look reasonable in the moment. And they'll do it again here, and people will fall for it.

  • Marty Wilde (unverified)
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    Would a rose by any other name smell so sweet? It's a bit of a disingenuous argument, isn't it? People don't like the names "gay marriage" and "civil unions", but they're OK with "domestic partnerships", even if they're all defined the same under the law. The California domestic partnership statute goes as far as any civil union legislation, but doesn't make waves. Yes, there's the whole "separate but equal" argument, but I think I'm OK with any attempt to get towards equality, even if it means calling it something else.

    As for the ambiguity argument, the language of equality tends to be pretty simple, but not ambiguous. For instance, "a domestic partnership shall be a legally recognized relationship between two members of the same sex with all the same benefits and responsibilities as marriage" is pretty simple and unambiguous, although it may end up complex in implementation. There's no reason to shy away from complexity in application - you couldn't possibly anticipate everything in a single law. Far better to have a clear statement of principle.

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    "They consistently argue only and precisely what they need to argue in order to convince people to enact their religious bigotry into law, and no more than that."

    I actualy think that people argue exactly what they need to in order to expalin their fear without having to examine that fear.

    Unfortunately, some religious leaders will capitalize on that fear by suggesting explanations that are politically expedient.

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    I am just so tired of all the right wing whining about civil unions and domestic partnerships. It is already disgraceful to force gay Americans to settle for a form of legal relationship that lacks all of the Federal rights and protections accorded to marriage and married people. And now even THAT's too much? I'm sorry -- it is time to call bullshit on these people. Enough deference to their bigotry. Enough expressions of pious respect for their tender sensitivities. They are WRONG just as the Jim Crow laws were wrong and it is time for us to stand up and say, every human being is of precisely equal value in the eyes of God, and every human being is entitled to equal protection of the laws of the United States. Full stop.

  • LeoxxIII (unverified)
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    They are consistent--their arguments, on this issue and others, are based consistently on "faith"--fact free stories that they consistently use to set society back.

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    I'm sorry -- it is time to call bullshit on these people. Enough deference to their bigotry. Enough expressions of pious respect for their tender sensitivities.

    I got yelled at a lot for calling bullshit on them during the Multnomah County period and then M36. People kept telling me that calling a bigot a bigot was not constructive to the debate.

  • RKM (unverified)
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    They’re consistent in their goals, which is the inculcating of a particular conservative Christian morality upon all of society, but not with their tactics, as this blog illustrates. And while it’s true that many of their arguments emerges from their faith, it’s also true that that’s irrelevant. For many of these religionists, the ends do completely justify the means, and so they can never be trusted to engage fairly in a debate.

    Don’t forget, they see themselves as God’s sole representatives on earth with a Biblical mandate to enforce His will. They speak a different language, and see the world though a much different filter from both those of progressive Christians and secularists. And we can’t expect them to promote their views in a logical and rational manner.

    I know this from experience. My wife has members of her family who are neck deep into the far-right Christian agenda. And any sort of civil discussion – particularly upon homosexual issues -- is practically impossible. Sadly, at times, in their zeal and their inability to see beyond their own faith, it seems these fundamentalist Christian have more in common with Islamic Mullahs in Afghanistan than main stream Christians in America.

    But, as I stated earlier, they’re slowly, inexorably losing this battle as they’ve lost so many before. Since the Enlightenment, conservative religious beliefs that attempted to hold the line against social progress and tolerance have always failed.

    It will here too.

  • Don Saxton (unverified)
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    How hard is it for people like the OFC to get this through their heads???!!! What part of EQUAL Rights for ALL, do they not understand?? It's been debunked long ago, that same Sex Unions do not threaten traditional heterosexual Marriages.. Such narrow minded people forcing their Views on others, on things that are Purely PERSONAL, is rediculous. I would suggest that people opposing this legislation first look to clean up their own Personal issues before looking to change others!!! (BTW- I've been married for over 26 years in a very stable Relationship, with two Daughters. I'm heterosexual, and have NEVER been threatened by anyone's Sexual Orientation!! I doubt any of the people at OFC have been threatened either, except in their own minds.)

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Why all the quibbling over who said what and in which context? I see nothing wrong with having a referendum and letting the chips fall where they may.

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, SMR. I'm guessing we wouldn't be voting on your status as a full member of society.

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Kristin - True, I'm not homosexual and I am not in favor of civil unions.

    If the shoe were on the other foot, and a bill to abolish civil unions was passed by a narrowly Republican legislature with a 100% likelihood of being signed into law by the governor, I have no doubt that you would support a referendum on the issue--especially if you felt that a basic social policy was being foisted on an unwilling majority.

    The controversy surrounding this issue only reinforces the notion that morality can be legislated--behavior (immediately) and beliefs (eventually) bend toward the law. The only question is whose view of morality will prevail.

    The people of this state should have the opportunity to exercise their right to decide this issue and to impose the majority's view of morality.

    Who knows? You might be surprised by the result.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    The idea that we should "vote" on granting equal protection is just wrong. Did Mississippi or Alabama conduct a vote before allowing blacks into state colleges? Of course not. You don't vote on basic rights. That's the whole point - if the "majority view" is permitted to define rights for a minority, all minorities will be vulnerable to domination and discrimination by whatever majority happens to exist at that moment. Not exactly what the drafters of our constitution had in mind.

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Blunote - are you saying that you would rather have social policy decided by a handful of judges, as opposed to a majority of the people?

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    SMR wrote: "The only question is whose view of morality will prevail"

    You're right, SMR, it is a moral question, though not in the way I expect you believe.

    The question is: will the moral foundation of the U.S. and Oregon Constitution - that we are all equal under the law - prevail or not? Religious extremists continue floating the Big Lie that it is somehow "moral" to deny housing, employment, and equal relationship rights and responsibilities to LGBT people. Yet, truly moral people - Americans who believe equality matters - know in their gut that this is wrong.

    So yes, it is indeed a moral question. And the immorality of Oregon's religious extremists is finally being checked.

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    SMR wrote: "are you saying that you would rather have social policy decided by a handful of judges, as opposed to a majority of the people?

    I should hope so. The social, legal, and moral foundation of the U.S.A. is that all Americans are equal under the law (if not the economy). Religious extremists have no right to act out their bigotries on others, just because their targets comprise less than 50% of the population.

    We are a nation of laws, not mob rule.

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Leo - you say that "truly moral people - Americans who believe equality matters - know in their gut" that denying civil unions is wrong.

    Are the majority of Oregonians "truly moral people"? Let's find out. All you can discover is the answer.

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Leo - I take it that, if a handful of judges decided that an abortion is equivalent to the murder of a human being who otherwise should have been afforded equal protection under the law, you'd be OK with that decision?

    Would your answer matter if a majority of the people thought otherwise?

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    SMR

    Thanks for the question. In fact, if the shoe was on the other foot, I'd fight for your rights, too.

    Here's the problem: we don't reverse roles by imagining what it would be like if the legislature voted to abolish civil unions. We reverse roles by imagining what it would be like if I had a right that you didn't have, and the legislature was voting to extend those same rights to you, equally.

    Only thing is, I can't seem to come up with a situation where the legislature would be granting rights to you that I already have, but that you don't. That's the entire issue.

    BlueNote and Leo are exactly right that the tyrany of the majority is something our founders sought to avoid. They did that partly by setting up three co-equal branches of government that would serve to protect all citizens, not just the majority - unwilling or not.

    If the Oregon legislature passed a bill that would abolish the marriage of a christian and an athiest, I would be the first to cry, "foul". Equally, if the people of Oregon wanted to vote on whether christians could openly practice their religion (something this bill does not do), you and I would likely be working together to make sure they could.

    Perhaps that's the insight that comes from being a member of the minority whose rights keep coming up for a vote.

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    I got yelled at a lot for calling bullshit on them during the Multnomah County period and then M36. People kept telling me that calling a bigot a bigot was not constructive to the debate.

    You should have listened to them more closely because they were right. Calling someone a bigot is calling names, not calling bullshit. People react negatively to calling names.

    Calling bullshit is exactly the right thing to do in this case, IMO.

    What is going to get the real point across to the majority of the electorate for whom gayness is still suspect but who strongly believe in fairness?

    Try these arguments on for size:

    "Don't vote for this measure, the people who support it are all bigots. And if you voted for measure 36 you are a bigot too."

    "They told you during the measure 36 campaign that they were not against fairness, they just thought that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman and that gay people should take their issue of fairness to the legislature and ask for a solution like HB 2007. They said they would not oppose that. Now they are telling you that HB 2007 is wrong and you should repeal it. Were they lying to you then or are they lying to you now?"

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    SMR wrote: "Are the majority of Oregonians "truly moral people"?

    Apparently so. The leadership of the Oregon Family Council announced they will not seek to rescind the Oregon Equality Act (SB2) through a ballot referendum.

    I hope the OFC and its related entities will also act morally, and not prove themselves to have been lying last year, by choosing also to not seek rescission of the Oregon Family Fairness Act (HB2007) through a ballot referendum.

    If the Oregon Family Council and its related entities do choose to flip-flop on this, there will be plenty of Oregonians ready to talk about the morality of lying to the press and public in pursuit of denying equal rights to others.

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Leo - putting aside the question of whether the OFC speaks for the majority of Oregonians (I doubt it, but I suppose it's possible), how do you view those who are not opposed to the revised SB2, but who do not support HB2007?

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    SMR wrote: "how do you view those who are not opposed to the revised SB2, but who do not support HB2007"

    The same way I view those who thought three-fifth's was a fair deal for Black folk: deeply confused about true morality, and wishing someone would just hand them a rulebook so they wouldn't have to struggle and think about what's truly right.

  • SMR (unverified)
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    Leo: It's good to know where you stand. I've enjoyed the conversation.

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    Were they lying to you then or are they lying to you now?"

    C'mon, Doretta, don't get on b!x's case about calling names. Bigots or liars...they're both. It's not "name calling" to identify something for what it is. Bigotry is bigotry...and lying is lying.

    We shouldn't feel bad --or think it's "unstrategic"-- to point that out.

  • Tina (unverified)
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    Keep blogging Kristin!

  • Susan Abe (unverified)
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    C'mon, Frank, Doretta wasn't saying b!X was factually wrong, just that he was strategically wrong. And she very clearly wasn't suggesting that he let the BS slide.

    We can point it out and still look mature and rational.

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    I'm just sayin' Doretta was "calling names" no less than b!x with her bit about "Were they lying to you then or are they lying to you now?" OK...maybe a little more strategic --or nicer-- than yelling "Liar, Liar, pants on fire," but I think it's good to have a few folks out there NOT being so nice in choosing their words carefully.

    Sometimes "mature and rational" is over-rated. There's a place for passion in our discourse.

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    Frank,

    It's the difference between calling "something" what it is and "someone" what they are. Factually it may be the same thing but emotionally it's different and it causes a different focus.

    "What you just said is not true." and "You're an effin liar." are very different statements even if at base they are making the exact same point about the exact same content. "He's a bigot." and "He lied to you." are also different statements that send most people down different cognitive and emotional pathways.

    My point was certainly not that one approach is "nicer" than the other. I fully agree that my "Were they lying to you then or are they lying to you now?" comment is just as strong a challenge as "They are bigots." My point was only about strategy. What kind of reaction are you after and where do you want the focus of the listener?

    I responded to a claim that putting the focus on the people and putting the focus on their approach to the issue were the same thing. They are not the same thing and furthermore I believe that putting the focus on the people is counterproductive in this case.

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    My point was only about strategy. What kind of reaction are you after and where do you want the focus of the listener?

    And your point is well made, Doretta.

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