Domestic Partners: A step in the right direction.

By Beren deMotier of Portland, Oregon. She is a Portland freelance writer specializing in social commentary and humor about life as a lesbian mother. Her book, The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage, was published this month. More info at berendemotier.com.

Three years ago, my wife and I married that windy Wednesday morning in Multnomah County with the hope of gaining legal equity with our straight married friends, celebrating our seventeen-year union by marrying in our church of choice, and receiving the hundreds of protections, privileges, and responsibilities the state of Oregon grants with the purchase of a marriage license.

The celebration was beyond our wildest dreams (and I finally got to walk down the aisle), but the equity and protections never came, as our marriage floated in legal limbo for a year before being annulled by Supreme Court decision to our sorrow and dismay.

But on January 1, 2008, because legislators passed SB HB 2007, my wife and I will, after twenty years together, be eligible for those long awaited rights.

Not as same-sex marriage, mind you, the holy grail in the fight for legal parity, nor even as civil unions, a near-marriage status enjoyed by committed gay couples in Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and soon, New Hampshire. Our rights come in the West Coast form of domestic partnerships, a romance-free moniker both emotionally vacant and flat; you simply can't go out and get domestically partnered. It sounds like you've taken out a business license together designing home decor within the boundaries of the United States. It is a contract, and honey, we all know marriage is more than that.

However, this is a step in the right direction. Years ago, when domestic partnership registration was set up in our city, it came with nothing: no rights, no privileges, no responsibilities -- just a piece of paper in the long trail of documents proving we were more than roommates in case some bereavement-crazed blood relation, claiming consanguinity comes first, went after our joint assets or children when one of us died.

Now, state-sanctioned domestic partnerships come with teeth, and having looked into the horse's mouth, pretty good ones. A non-biological lesbian mother won't have to adopt her newborn when her spouse gives birth, paying for home study after home study before being legally declared the parent she's been since conception. Nor will we be able to dodge responsibility in the case of a divorce, since there will be, beyond a doubt, a legal relationship. And theoretically, we'll be able to care for, visit, make decisions for, and bury a loved one, when that time comes. Blood relatives won't need to be called before we can walk into a hospital room to bring flowers, kiss goodnight or say goodbye to a critically-ill spouse.

Our rights as a couple won't be equal with our straight brethren though: first, because they can travel across state lines unconcerned about their legal status, while we are legal strangers unless we are traveling up and down the West Coast or visiting Massachusetts or those few states that grant domestic partnerships or civil unions to same-sex couples (and won't ask us to pull the birth certificates out of the glove box to prove our three children are really 'ours'); second, because the lion's share of legal benefits come with federal recognition, which has been barred at the gates since the Defense of Marriage Act passed under President Clinton.

But domestic partnership is forward motion, and much better than another legal kick in the teeth, which opponents of same-sex marriage are likely writing up for the November ballot even now, as I dare to hope that, a little more than six months from today, twenty-one years and six days after falling in love, my spouse and I will be legally equal to any other couple under Oregon law, if under a less romantic and meaningful name.

Comments

  • BB (unverified)
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    HB 2007 :) Not SB.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    "Honey," it is a contract, marriage that is. If you push it to be more than a civil contract you've fallen into the same trap the religious have, that the State sanction of a union has something to do with the "sacred." If you do so, you validate their opposition to same-sex marriage. You can feel any way you like about your partnership, the State recognizes contracts.

    I love my wife - in a heterosexual way - but I don't do so because the State has anything to do with it, we have the benefit of a contract everything else is up to us. Sure, I think you should be able to have a marriage contract, just don't make it more than it is.

  • liberalincarnate (unverified)
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    -Chuck,

    When people ask me, "Why is marriage so important to gays?" this is my response:

    Imagine that for your entire life you have been denounced as immoral and told that any attempt to have a relationship with a member of the same-sex is considered deviant and cannot work because it is unnatural. Imagine a society that enforces this belief by denying the rights of marriage to you and, in fact, discourages any sort of normalcy of a same-sex relationship.

    As a straight man, you are expected to get married and settled down. It is an expectation put on you by a supportive society, your parents, your other family and friends. The older you become the more you are discouraged from causal dating. Now, you can resist this societal expectation, but it is not easy and you will be looked upon as a deviant if you do. People may even question your sexuality.

    Imagine what such expectations or lack thereof does to a person. To say that marriage is just a contract is pretty naive, but then again you are straight and it should be expected that you take such things for granted.

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)
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    Don't be greedy for your civil rights, Berea. Let's see first if the small step the Oregon Legislature took this year survives the bigots' challenge at the polls.

    For us older enlightened fogeys, the idea of gay marriage has the same connotations that eliminating bans on miscegenation had on liberal white Southerners in the 1950's. You know its right, you know its logical, but something in your bones tells you to resist.

    Once my generation is dead, or at least too old to vote, gay marriage will be with us. That is, unless the far left in this country lets the Islamofascists take over the world, in which case we're all screwed.

  • Miles (unverified)
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    To say that marriage is just a contract is pretty naive, but then again you are straight and it should be expected that you take such things for granted.

    Let's not make the bigoted assumption that someone's views are more or less legitimate based on their sexuality. I think that's exactly the discrimination that we're fighting against.

    Chuck's point is that we should push back on the view that state-sanctioned marriage is anything more than a contract. He's right. It's simply a contract that entitles you to certain rights and assigns certain responsibilities. Any larger meaning that we put on marriage should come from our church, our community, or our circle of friends.

    I want gays and lesbians to have full marriage rights. And I agree with Beren that Domestic Partnerships are great but fall short of that. What I disagree with is that state-sanctioned marriage is or should be something more than a contract. It's not, and it shouldn't be. That's just not government's role.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    I firmly hope this goes to a vote and that Oregonians overturn this travesty next November. No way should the legislature have thumbed their noses at the voters of Oregon like they did with this. This is a step in the wrong direction. If you want to get married, move to Canada or Holland.

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    Beren,

    Given the vitriol in the comments, I wanted to particularly congratulate you for 1) your marriage, 2) your children, 3) your courage to write this post, and 4) your writing skills. Please, don't move to Canada or Holland, please, be greedy, so very, very greedy with your civil rights, and please, please feel free to define marriage however you want to define it. It's your marriage after all -- it doesn't belong to anybody else to comment on. You have immense support.

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    Steve wrote "No way should the legislature have thumbed their noses at the voters of Oregon like they did with this."

    They didn't Steve, so stop twisting history. The legislature honored Ballot Measure 36, and did as suggested by Tim Nashif of the Oregon Family Council and Mike White of the Defense of Marriage Coalition. They created marriage-like rights, by another name.

    On 8/20/2004 in the Bend Bulletin, Tim Nashif, Oregon Family Council Director and a main organizer of the Measure 36 campaign stated: "Same-sex couples should seek marriage-like rights through another avenue, such as civil unions."

    On 11/10/04, Mike White, spokesperson for the Defense of Marriage Coalition said in the Lincoln City News Guard: "If same-sex couples need legal protection, they should consult their legislative representatives. If they need legislation to do that, no one is going to stand in their way."

    Were they lying?

    That's the real question here: do OFC and DOMC members stand by their word?

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    You move to Canada or Holland... Steve.

    This is my country, founded on the principles of equal protection under the law, and if you want to force my state and country to continue its shameful practice of discrimination (in violation of the basic principle upon which it was founded) then go find some other corner of the globe to live in (BTW, I doubt Holland or Canada would welcome bigotry like yours, and for good reason).

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    Leave the troll, alone, folks. Don't let him hijack the thread. To fight back, donate to Basic Rights Oregon.

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    Chuck's point is that we should push back on the view that state-sanctioned marriage is anything more than a contract. He's right. It's simply a contract that entitles you to certain rights and assigns certain responsibilities. Any larger meaning that we put on marriage should come from our church, our community, or our circle of friends.

    Yup, and there's absolutely no reason that we can't put that larger meaning on domestic partnerships -- or better yet... why not simply call it "marriage" in private (as Beren implies, by calling her partner her "wife") and then get the legal paperwork called "domestic partnership".

    And keep fighting to make sure that gays and lesbians get all the remaining legal rights. Personally, I think that once we get to the place where ALL the legal rights are in place, we can call it whatever we want...

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    That is very true -- from a government standpoint, marriage should be nothing more than a contract. Something that says these two people have agreed to certain responsibilities, and in return they get certain rights.

    All the other stuff should be left to churches, family, etc.

    The problem is, as I've said it before, that in the United States we've combined our religious and civil portions of a marriage into one. In other countries they have two ceremonies -- one that gives you all the legal rights and such, and another that blesses the union in the eyes of your creator. Don't you recall Prince Charles and Camilla's wedding -- it was on tv for days.

    They had a civil ceremony in front of a small crowd and then went to Windsor Castle where the Archbishop of Canterbury led a religious ceremony in front of 800 friends and family.

    In Spanish class we learned about the two ceremonies often found in Latin America when a couple is married -- one civil, one religious.

    But here we've rolled in all into one, which has allowed religion to dictate who is and who isn't allowed to marry.

    We forget that this country wasn't founded on "majority rules." In fact, the phrase is actually majority rules, with minority rights. However, it seems that as a society we're all too quick to jump at the chance to deny rights to minorities based on majority rule.

    American citizens should not have to go to another country just to enjoy equal rights. Same sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights as my husband and I. They shouldn't have to deal with the frustration of less than equal rights when in an emergency situation like one partner in a serious accident, or in a dispute over children, a home, etc. with their partner's family when their partner dies.

    I found it quite interesting when my pastor from back home got caught cheating on his wife. For years he was one of the loudest critics of gay rights and the like -- it would hurt his marriage. Apparently he hurt it enough himself, as he'd been with his secretary for years. It only came out because she killed her husband.

  • unjeff (unverified)
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    Kari, I <3 BlueOregon and you. If you weren't already spoken for, I'd domestic partner you tout de suite! Thanks for highlighting QGLBT legislative concerns and inviting folks like Beren to share her thoughts.

  • Tanya (unverified)
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    "Prohibiting civil marriage for same-sex couples is discriminatory and unfairly denies such couples, their children and other members of their families the legal, financial and social advantages of civil marriage." Those are the words of the American Psychiatric Association, who represent over 35,000 physicians. Take a moment to soak up the brain-power and education that this represents.

    And the APA didn't release this to the press without backup. They went on to say: "The APA recognizes the importance of the institution of civil marriage which confers a social status with important legal benefits, rights and privileges," said psychologist Armand R. Cerbone, who is a private practitioner in Chicago and chair of the working group. "Discrimination of all kinds takes a toll on people's health and psychological well being. In the context of the huge social and political debate that is currently going on, APA and psychologists had to grapple with the issue of what psychology believes is in the public interest in this controversy. Given what research tells us about the impact of discrimination and given that the research further provides no justification for discriminating against same-sex couples in marriage or in parenting, the Working Group strongly recommended that APA support states in providing civil marriage to same-sex couples and fully recognizing the parental rights of lesbians and gay men. As a benefit for human welfare, it is important to point out that permitting same-sex couples to marriage may especially benefit people who also experience discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and gender identity, religion and socioeconomic status," said Cerbone.

    Trolls schmolls. We're talking about the health of families, and their ability to gain medical, physical and financial access to one another.

    It is true that a file cabinet in some state office will only see a contract. But we cannot reduce it to a mere contract, because it is also true that a hospital or insurance company or employer will see a regulation to recognize a family as such. And marriage is also commonly recognized as a public declaration of love and commitment. It is respected as a deeply personal relationship that is assumed to be sexual but still honored as legitimate, and recognized by social authorities.

    Of course Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions are just the beginning. But I don't even think of marriage as the "Holy Grail". I don't expect real social change would happen until marriage has been available for 2 or 3 generations of same-sex couples.

    BTW- some good info about the big gay debate can be found here: at morons dawt org

  • James Thivierge (unverified)
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    So because the clear majority of Americans believe that men having sex with men and women with women are a perversion and deviant are "Bigots’"? Let’s take the religious factor out of the equation and use Darwinism as our model! I as a heterosexual have this innate aversion to homosexuality! I can't help it because within my humanness I consciously and sub-consciously know that the human species will slowly degrade and become extinct! No matter how much we tell Homosexuals that we except them and give them everything they want they will always feel different and judgmental of heterosexuals because they innately know it’s deviant and not natural! If you think it’s natural for a man to insert his penis in the rectum of another man then I will remain what you call a bigot!
    But don’t force this lifestyle on our children and nation! If a man wants to have sexes with another man then do it! But keep it to yourself and keep my children out of it!
    Stop telling me I have to except your deviancy! (Deviate from the norm)

  • xenopdx (unverified)
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    "Homosexuals ... innately know it’s deviant and not natural!"

    You could only know that if (a) you haven spoken with every gay person about it, or (b) you are yourself a homosexual.

    Homosexuality exists in nature and is in written literature since the very beginning. My conscious and sub-conscious tell me that our extinction will have nothing to do with it.

  • Sadie (unverified)
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    Read Beren's book!!

    The Brides of March.

    The 'marriage' exists in spite of everything (bigotry, laws, societal norms, family learning curve and on and on and on...) standing in the way of it's success.

    While we can't and don't entirely want to put politics or religion aside, do yourselves and all of us a favor by taking the time to read this book which humanizes this issue and reminds us of what we are really talking about.

    Real people.
    Real families.
    Real legal rights.

    Read Beren's book and give yourselves the gift of understanding how the State, Federal Government, Religion, legal rights, politics and the social fabric do, in fact, have far reaching effects on your relationships despite any assertions to the contrary.

  • Beren deMotier (unverified)
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    <h2>I'm glad that there is lively debate happening on BlueOregon.com about same-sex marriage. My book, The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage, is a humorous, human inside look at same-sex marriage from a bride's eye view, in the context of one couple's life together for twenty years. There is an excerpt on my Website, as well as other columns I've written about same-sex marriage during the last decade. The more painful comments (to those of us pro-same-sex marriage)posted here are good examples of the mindset that there is something innately wrong with being gay, and that gay people should buy into that mindset and sit quietly until rights are granted by the powers that be. We would have to be incredibly self-loathing to accept that status with a smile.</h2>
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