The Conservative's Conundrum: Gay Marriage or Civil Unions (for all)

Kevin Kamberg

An open letter to Oregon Conservatives

Dear Oregon Conservatives:

Equal rights is coming. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. You can continue fighting it and that may delay the inevitable for a while. But ultimately your efforts to preserve special rights just for yourselves will be but dust in the wind because it's the blindfold that distinguishes Lady Justice from a petty tyrant.

One by one your arguments have been debunked and exposed. Perhaps most damning of all has been the very sad, very public spectacle more commonly known as Brittney Spears and Kevin Federline. The very notion that they are somehow deserving of special rights under the law on the basis of their former attraction to each other is absurd. Surely even you can see that.

So here's the situation. You basically have two choices:

1. Gay Marriage

or...

2. Civil Unions for everyone.

Now, if I were still one of you then I would go with the later choice because that would at least leave you with the thin veneer of your religious institution's exclusionary rules. But then that would be between you and your God, which is where it belonged in the first place. Lots of water has already gone over that dam.

You're probably wondering why I'm writing you now. After all, you're in the midst of trying to roll back Domestic Partnerships here in Oregon and probably don't want to hear any of this. Well, it's because I've been watching as your peers in California have had their legal arguments to the California Supreme Court turned into mincemeat and I'm hoping that you might be beginning to grasp the long-term futility of your quest.

Oh, and just between you and me and... well, Blue Oregon, that Gary George fellow is a huge liability to your cause. Seriously! He makes Brittney and Kevin seem like desirable neighbors. I mean c'mon!

But back to the topic at hand. Look, I know that the French aren't exactly your favorite people - but then, do you really like anyone but yourselves? Ah, but I digress... The French..., they've got this "marriage" thing figured out about as well as it can be in a society that's both religiously conservative and dedicated to democratic principles. Everyone gets what is effectively a civil union document from the government, at which point the civil portion of the happy day is concluded, and the newly joined couple then goes to the church of their choice to get marriage rites performed, and only then are they actually "married." I think that ultimately you'd have to agree that sooner or later that's the only way you're going to be able to restrict your brand of religion to just those who agree with you. Of course there are churches that are only too happy to perform marriage rites for gay couples too. But then that's really none of your business, is it?!

Oh sure, you'd have to learn some new qualifying words like, "my Baptist wife and I" or "my Mormon husband and I" depending on how you take your tea. But hey... at least you'd be able to cling to your illusion of exclusivity in a way that still holds out the proverbial snowball's chance in Hades of not having it taken away from you.

Folks, you're holding a losing hand. Best play it real smartly or the choice will be taken away from you. Personally, I think that gay marriage as a civil institution is inevitable. But if you're going to have even a chance of avoiding that eventuality in your lifetime then you damn well better stop fighting gay rights and belly up to the table where you can at least have an opportunity to steer our collective future. Obstinantly tilting at windmills as your California peers have done is the surest way to guarantee that the choice is taken away from you whether you like it or not. And hey... who knows, maybe if everyone got used to to having Civil Unions then the whole "marriage" thing would receed back to the religions from whence it came. But either way, full equality under the law is coming, and soon! You can work with it or you can work against it. Preventing it simply isn't an option available to you out here in the real world.

Think about it...

"He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself." -- Thomas Paine

Comments

  • (Show?)
    Personally, I think that gay marriage as a civil institution is inevitable. But if you're going to have even a chance of avoiding that eventuality in your lifetime then you damn well better stop fighting gay rights and belly up to the table where you can at least have an opportunity to steer our collective future. Obstinantly tilting at windmills as your California peers have done is the surest way to guarantee that the choice is taken away from you whether you like it or not. And hey... who knows, maybe if everyone got used to to having Civil Unions then the whole "marriage" thing would receed back to the religions from whence it came. But either way, full equality under the law is coming, and soon! You can work with it or you can work against it. Preventing it simply isn't an option available to you out here in the real world.

    Thank you, Kevin.

    Some of us believe that equal access to civil marriage is not just "inevitable;" it's both desirable and mandatory. The choice we as a society have offered to us is this: "level UP" by opening up civil marriage to all; or "level DOWN" by abolishing civil marriage and reserving "marriage" only to the churched.

    People will always want to get married, even if they aren't religious and don't belong to a church. By proposing the abolition of civil marriage and the relegation of unchurched couples to "civil unions" (if that is what you are really suggesting), you would plant the seeds of resentment and anger among straight people who might not otherwise have any animus toward gays. But if those straight people decide that it is the fault of uppity gay people that they (straight people) can't get married at City Hall anymore, you're launching a whole new era of anti-gay sentiment.

    There are a gazillion other reasons why it has to be marriage. There are more than a thousand rights, privileges, and benefits in Federal law alone that accrue only to legally married spouses. We need to repeal DOMA and Measure 36 (or get ourselves a Supreme Court that will recognize their unconstitutionality), and we need to work hard to achieve full marriage equality for all couples.

    This is the core civil rights issue of our generation.

    (Imagine if, instead of abolishing miscegenation laws, the US had created a second class of legal relationship which was the best thing interracial couples could aspire to. The patent absurdity of that scenario sheds very valuable light on the appropriate path we should follow today.)

  • (Show?)

    Equality is desirable and mandatory. The labels attached are irrelevant, evolving quirks of linguistic history.

    I don't know how to say the Mandarin Chinese word equivalent of the English "marriage" but I'm pretty certain that it sounds nothing like our word and yet the essential meaning transcends mere words.

    Heck, the Mandarin word for it may very well sound a great deal more like "civil unions" than "marriage." It makes no difference because all linguistics are inherently transitory while equality is inherently transcendent.

  • (Show?)

    Number one, this is the 2nd time out of what, four posts?--that Kevin has violated BlueO's exclusivity rule for contributors. This is the exact same post appearing right now at PK. Maybe you can pretend Kevin forgot the first time, but what's this excuse? Do you really need to have a hatchet man writing for the site so badly, that you're willing to forgive the rules of the site for him repeatedly Kari?

    Number two, I thought the agreement was not to talk repeatedly about the Senate race. This is a thinly veiled piece on abolishing marriage, which just so happens to be exactly Merkley's position, and one that looks weak compared to full marriage equality, according to the LGBTQ site that has endorsed his opponent. If there's one thing that Kevin has argued for more than anything, it's that somehow denying marriage to everyone is preferable than offering them to everyone--in order to protect Merkley's left flank.

    On point, marriage predates religion, and that's been pointed out to you before. As someone who supports Obama so strongly that any deviation or concern is weak endorsement, I would think that words DO matter to you, and yet here you say the multimillenial meaning of the word marriage just doesn't.

  • (Show?)

    TJ,

    Please... get a shrink. Or at least put the damn tinfoil hat back on. You're the only one talking about any political race or candidates. I've talking about this same basic subject since before anyone filed for any race in this election in this state or any other state for that matter.

    I don't see anything anywhere around here that says anything about exclusivity. What it says is that Blue Oregon won't publish anything that's already been published elsewhere. The cross-posted piece at PK which has your knickers all bunched up was posted more than an hour after this post was published.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
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    hmmm, oddly enough my wife and I are married, got a license for it (in Harney Co of all places - work) and then had a Justice Court Judge do the deal in the Baker City Elk's Hall. God didn't get mentioned though I did have to make some promises. I don't know if god was watching nor if he approved, I didn't ask. The State of Oregon seemed alright with it and Judge Larry Cole was pretty pleased and lo all these years later the lady is still with me so I guess she's pleased. Apparently we have a marriage, the IRS is ok with it, too.

    Sanctity of marriage is a scam, god ain't involved in any state of the union unless you want him to be. Personally I'd rather ram this down their throats than have to start using some awkward phrase. But we've done this haven't we Kevin. Hey, TJ relax a little.

  • (Show?)
    What it says is that Blue Oregon won't publish anything that's already been published elsewhere. The cross-posted piece at PK which has your knickers all bunched up was posted more than an hour after this post was published.

    !!!

  • LT (unverified)
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    "Number one, this is the 2nd time out of what, four posts?--that Kevin has violated BlueO's exclusivity rule for contributors"

    Gee! I guess the debates aren't about candidates! It is about 2 guys who are fighting each other!

    Give it a rest!

  • Denbeau (unverified)
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    Kevin, The Mandarin is 结婚,or "jie hun" ... that would be pronounced sort of like "gee-uh hoo-un". I think it does sound a little more like "civil union" than "marriage". Denbeau Alimere

  • (Show?)

    hmmm, oddly enough my wife and I are married, got a license for it (in Harney Co of all places - work) and then had a Justice Court Judge do the deal in the Baker City Elk's Hall. God didn't get mentioned though I did have to make some promises. I don't know if god was watching nor if he approved, I didn't ask. The State of Oregon seemed alright with it and Judge Larry Cole was pretty pleased and lo all these years later the lady is still with me so I guess she's pleased. Apparently we have a marriage, the IRS is ok with it, too.

    Chuck, my husband and I did it the same way. We went over to the Multnomah Building and bought a license and then we found a nice judge and got married in his courtroom in the Multnomah County Courthouse. No clergy involvement of any kind, which was fine with us. People have done this for generations and I hate the idea of taking it away from anyone.

    Kevin does have a point, but the point he's making unintentionally illustrates why he's wrong about this. Kevin says, semantically, why does it matter what you call it, the important thing is for everyone to have the same rights. That's fine as far as it goes. But "marriage" is what that relationship has always been called. And "marriage" as a legal status is the status that has always conferred certain rights, privileges, and benefits -- not only the 1000+ I referred to above, relating to Federal law, but countless other rights, privileges, and benefits arising out of private contracts of insurance, service providers, etc.

    So you have a conundrum, and that's what I was getting at with my link about leveling up or leveling down. This story was told in the New York Times "Freakonomics" blog:

    There are always two ways of ending de jure discrimination: you can level up, or level down. In the late 1950s, the estimable city of Greensboro, N.C., operated a whites-only swimming pool. When a group of African Americans petitioned the city council to end the segregation, the council relented –- by closing the pool to both whites and blacks.

    Technically it might not be "impossible" to abolish civil marriage prospectively and impose a regimen of "civil unions" for the unchurched, although I wonder if we are looking at an "establishment of religion" problem in such an instance. But there are two larger problems.

    First, the pure logistics of such a task would be staggering -- the thousand-plus Federal rights and benefits that would have to be redefined, all the statutes that would have to be passed to require all those private contracting parties to grant the same rights to the civil-unioned as to the married, etc.

    Second, the human factor. Human beings are very resistant to giving up anything that they like, and they like civil marriage, and have been availing themselves of it for a very long time. They will not take kindly to having it taken away from them for no god reason, and they will resent and blame gay people for "ruining it for everyone" by selfishly insisting on equality of nomenclature.

    Most of the people who make Kevin's argument (and I am not saying that Kevin is one of these people, only that he shares their argument) are people of a rather traditional, perhaps even a religious outlook, who just can't wrap their minds around allowing two men or two women to have a "marriage." My own mother falls into this category. "Let them have their equal rights, BUT DON'T CALL IT MARRIAGE!" she says. When pressed she says that "marriage is a sacrament" and something about this not being God's plan. The "marriage is a sacrament" crowd almost invariably oppose simply opening up civil marriage (as marriage) to same sex couples.

    TJ's not imagining things when he sees a Merkley-serving agenda here. It happens that Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley are on opposite sides of this conundrum. Both of them say that they advocate equal legal rights for all couples. But Steve chooses the simpler, more direct way, by granting same sex couples access to civil marriage. Jeff, on the other hand, is part of the "marriage is a sacrament" crowd. As he told the Oregonian in 2004,

    Should the Legislature address same-sex marriage? If so, how? If not, why? The Legislature should ensure that all couples are accorded civil rights such as tax, health insurance, inheritance and visitation rights. I believe that marriage is a sacred covenant between a couple and God and is best addressed through one's church or other religious home.

    This position is identical to the one he expressed to me when I asked him about marriage equality in December 2007.

    This is not the core issue of any US Senate campaign, nor should it be, but it's a marker for a generally progressive outlook on social issues, and Steve is where (IMO) a progressive candidate should be: leveling UP, not DOWN.

  • (Show?)

    oops, nice Freudian slip up there.

    "no god reason" should be "no good reason"

  • anon (unverified)
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    good gravy.

    The nasty Novick commentors can't even give it a rest for a single day.

    Kevin is telling conservatives that equality is coming. They can get on board or be railroaded by the process.

    Believe it or not StephanieV, the entire world doesn't revolve around you and Steve Novick.

  • (Show?)

    Chuck,

    Yes, we have had this conversation at least once before, although it's probably been more than just once. I don't disagree with a single thing you've said. In fact, the gist of it illustrates why I personally believe that gay marriage is inevitable and vastly more likely than civil unions for all. Further, I have no great preference one way or the other.

    The point I've been striving to make these last several years has really been aimed directly at TheoCons. Which is really two-pronged: 1. that equality is coming whether they like it or not, and 2. it's a not so subtle (trust me, they "get it") reminder of the veracity of the Thomas Paine quote I used here. Had their forebears valued Church/State Separation in the late 19th / early 20th Century then perhaps this could have been avoided.

    If you look back at the history of when "marriage" was coopted by the federal government as a civil institution (SSI benefits), it came on the heels of a whole swath of civil institutions which stemmed more from religeous notions than anything else. Such as "Sunday Blue Laws," women being denied the right to vote, etc. The Blue Laws were overturned largely due to strong pressure from a coalition of evangelical churchs, one of which is the brand of evangelicalism that I was raised it and which to this day is staunchly supportive of Church/State separation.

    But again... I'm not opposed to gay marriage.

  • BHamm (unverified)
    (Show?)

    FWIW, I read this post the exact same way torridjoe did. It's an attempt to justify Jeff Merkely's position as the correctly progressive one.

    Also, not that it matters, I believe it's spelled "Britney" Spears.

  • (Show?)

    FWIW, I've searched Jeff Merkley's website and the web and have yet to find any incontrovertable evidence that he has a particular preference one way or the other. What he has said, and the objective record reflects, is that he supports fully equal rights for everyone. Period.

    I didn't mention any political candidates in the post because none of them are particularly relevant to it. It's not about any one or two or three political candidates. It's about exactly what it says - an open letter to conservatives about their foolhardy strategy.

    As positive as I am that the continued obstinance of TheoCons will work to their disadvantage, I am equally positive that purity trolling within the progressive community will work to our disadvantage.

    There are very good historical reasons why "divide and conquer" has such a storied place in our collective lexicon. We, as progressives, can use it to our advantage or to our disadvantage - the choice is ours.

  • jonno (unverified)
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    Not to step into the middle of a Novick/Merkeley knife fight here, but did anyone else read that Gary George interview? Yikes!! That, fellow Oregonians, is why I'm involved in Oregon liberal politics.

    What a troglodyte! What a waste of time, having to refight the same battle for inevitable equality every two years. Keep the cannons aimed the right direction. There's our target and his name is Gary George.

  • (Show?)

    Yes, I read the Gary George interview ("SHUT UP!") and was amazed, but in a way grateful for his honesty. His words paint the picture of what we're fighting.

    As for the intramural disagreements among Democrats as to how this should be handled, I freely cop to having a very strong opinion and expressing it bluntly. I just get tired of repeatedly seeing civil rights deferred and denied because of excessive deference to the sensitivities of religious organizations. And I get tired of people who are supposed to be progressives but don't understand that.

    Marriage is a civil contract between two individuals and the state.

    Religious organizations can perform a wedding sacrament, but without the license from the state it's just an excuse to get dressed up and shake your friends down for gifts.

    Kevin, as for Merkley's viewpoint, I think the relevant question is, can you find any evidence that he has changed his mind since he expressed his views ("marriage is a sacrament") to the Oregonian in 2004? I know you choose not to believe my account of what he said to me, but it happens that what he said to me is 100% consistent with what he he apparently said to the O four years ago. So ... I think we are all entitled to believe what he said to the O (and to me), unless he expresses a different view. This he has not done to my knowledge.

  • (Show?)

    Jonno, I couldn't agree more... across the board. It's bad enough when progressive succumb to the divide and conquer tactics of the reich-wing. It's worse when we do it to ourselves.

    At the risk of repeating myself... I didn't bring either Merkley or Novick into this... on purpose.The only knives being wielded are coming from one side only.

  • (Show?)

    Kevin,

    where are the knives? I feel I have been factual and respectful in this thread.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Hey, its been rainy and almost cold all day here in East County today---quite a change from yesterday---can someone here tell me whether Merkley or Novick is to blame (or thank depending on your argument) for this fact?

    Because, of course, there is NOTHING going on in all of Oregon that can't be linked to ongoing, ever-important, all-consuming, 24/7 Merkley/Novick "Battle for Senate". Hey, I think puppies are cute...what do Jeff and Steve think? Stay tuned!!!

    Yeeshhh...another good post highjacked. <sigh>

  • (Show?)

    Marriage is a civil contract between two individuals and the state.

    Yes it is, and IMO that is what needs to be changed.

    The definition that you offer is quite recent, dating from when laws were enacted to change a woman's status from property to human being. For the preceding 5000 years Marriage was about allocation of property.

    Let's give the word marriage and any attending sacraments back to the various religions that assert their authority to define it.

    Let's call all legally binding agreements regarding domestic partnerships something else.

    I recommend we call it Hot Cockolorum, and make it the exclusive purview of The State.

    Disclaimer: I held this view prior to the current US Senate race. My opinions are my own, and are of course, always absolutely correct

  • JB (unverified)
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    You may want to do some further research on France. Gay couples can get a domestic-partner-esque "thing" from the state, but straight couples get marriage, not a civil union or anything of the sort.

    I have been amazed at the number of folks who propagate the falsehood that in European countries such as France, that which the state gives you isn't a marriage. If it's not meant to be a deliberate lie, it's just ignorance. Europeans are not required to go to a church to be considered married (not civilly unionized) any more than straight couples in the USA who wish to get married are required to go to a church, as opposed to a justice of the peace.

  • JB (unverified)
    (Show?)

    You may want to do some further research on France. Gay couples can get a domestic-partner-esque "thing" from the state, but straight couples get marriage, not a civil union or anything of the sort.

    I have been amazed at the number of folks who propagate the falsehood that in European countries such as France, that which the state gives you isn't a marriage. If it's not meant to be a deliberate lie, it's just ignorance. Europeans are not required to go to a church to be considered married (not civilly unionized) any more than straight couples in the USA who wish to get married are required to go to a church, as opposed to a justice of the peace.

  • JB (unverified)
    (Show?)

    You may want to do some further research on France. Gay couples can get a domestic-partner-esque "thing" from the state, but straight couples get marriage, not a civil union or anything of the sort.

    I have been amazed at the number of folks who propagate the falsehood that in European countries such as France, that which the state gives you isn't a marriage. If it's not meant to be a deliberate lie, it's just ignorance. Europeans are not required to go to a church to be considered married (not civilly unionized) any more than straight couples in the USA who wish to get married are required to go to a church, as opposed to a justice of the peace.

  • (Show?)

    Kevin, while I disagree with TJ and Stephanie about Novick, I do think they have a point about the BlueOregon no-crosspost rule. You look like you're bending it into a pretzel big enough to kill the whole Bush family.

    Exclusivity rules are typically in place so that one media outlet doesn't become, essentially, an advertisement for another. Or at least not without explicit permission.

    All I'm saying here is maybe you ought to check with the editors before you keep doing this.

    BTW, at this point I'm just trying to tune TJ out. This Novick partisanship has blinded him to the point that it seems like he'd spin an anti-Merkley argument out of a weather report. I'm hoping he'll recover some perspective, one way or another, about a week after the primary.

  • Tracy Turner (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kevin,

    My partner and I LOVED your post. We don't think we could have said it any better. Your post is so well articulated that we've even gone so far as to make a copy of it; and if you don't mind, we'll probably borrow some of your phrasings (of course, with the requisite attributes). Thank you so much for your commentary.

    Sincerely,

    Tracy and Todd

  • christi (unverified)
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    JB and Kevin, you both need to do a little more research on France - This wikipedia article has some good info. Being PACSed (the French civil union) is available to all, gay or straight, and it's used by both. Only opposite sex couples can get married, and it doesn't have to be in a church. Being PACed gives you almost all the same benefits as being married - the only difference I've ever run across is that PAC doesn't translate as "marriage" and friends who were trying to adopt a child from China got unPACed and married to do so. The vocabulary is the same - people introduce each other as husband and husband or husband and wife, or wife and wife, but if asked "are you married?" will usually clarify that they've been PACed.

    just FYI. I still like Kevin's main argument.

  • (Show?)

    Tracy, as far as I'm concerned you are more than welcome to use it as you see fit. I personally care a great deal less about the attribution than I do about the ideas expressed. If you can open some minds with them then you have my sincere blessing on your endeavor. Seriously. That's why I do this blogging thing. It's all about the ideas.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks for the info, Christi. I'd actually been aware of the PACSed thing... at one time. But it had obviously been forgotten until I read your comment here, at which point I had one of those Homer Simpson "d'oh" moments. LOL

    I knew that gays didn't have a fully comparable institution in France. More what I was trying to get at is how the French have distinguished between the civil and religeous aspects of "marriage." That's the conceptual nugget which I was trying to glean from the pan.

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