Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Should We Take the All or Nothing Approach to Marriage Equality?

        Yesterday, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed into law a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions starting on June 1 of this year. Automatically, as if on cue, we heard from the Religious Right complaining that this was a step towards legalizing gay marriage in the state; but just as understandably at the same time we also heard the traditional clamoring from the LGBT community stating that civil unions are separate and unequal to the institution of marriage. To these advocates, they see nothing as a win unless it is full marriage equality, and civil unions are a slap in the face to their equality minded temperament.

      Though I see where these advocates are coming from, I feel as though they don't see the big picture of the issue. Yes, civil unions are separate and unequal from the full rights and social status that marriage gives to a couple (as the proposition 8 trial in California has shown), but at the same time, could it not be said that civil unions are a step in the right direction of full equality? I feel as though the above advocates - though well meaning - believe that we exist in an all or nothing society. But this is not the case, and therefore the smallest wins and gains for equality - no matter what form they take, is always a positive. For example, when I move back to Tennessee this coming August, do I want my Canadian marriage recognized? Of course, but as the state of Tennessee has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, my husband and I would be content with a civil union. Would I want it to stay a civil union, and exist in a complacent state of not caring any longer? Not at all, and I would work diligently with local legislators to introduce legislation that would repeal the current gay marriage ban.

       In conclusion, I believe that those who think that civil unions should be avoided at all costs should talk with those who live in states (31 by last count) who cannot be married at the moment because of constitutional amendments. Tell them that they should "wait" to have their relationships recognized until full equality can be gained. I for one, reject this approach and instead believe that we don't make progress normally through large leaps and bounds, but instead through small steps.

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