Civil Unions vs. Marriage
Congratulations to the State of California. With last Thursday’s ruling from that state’s Supreme Court, it will be lawful for same sex marriages to take place. Also, the court found that same sex couples are as able to parent as heterosexual couples.
Why does it matter that same sex couples be permitted to marry as opposed to entering into civil unions?
The answer lies in another question. Why were separate but equal school facilities in the civil rights era not enough? Separate was not equal because it did not include black children in the nation’s mainstream of life. And so, if gays and lesbians are not permitted to marry, but only have their own separate category of “civil unions” they remain excluded from the mainstream of society.
I believe that is the basis of the real fear of allowing same sex marriage—that such relationships will become “normalized.” Then the argument that such relationships are immoral or in some way sick or perverted will die out. When we live next door to a same sex couple, we are forced to come to some sort of acceptance, or else move.
The California Supreme Court referred to laws of miscegenation [inter-racial marriage] which have been struck down in the United States. Thirty years ago, we noticed married couples of different races. Today, our sensitivity is certainly less so. The striking down of those laws has changed our perception of what is “normal”. In all likelihood, the same change will occur once same sex marriage is common.
Acceptance and tolerance can grow when the relationship is normalized by extending to gays and lesbians the right to marry. With civil union status, we continue to exclude and separate same sex relationships from the social norm.
But will acceptance and tolerance grow? Looking at the current state of racial tensions, we must admit that for some, the issue is only buried. The more gay and lesbian people are protected by law, “gay-bashing” will likely recede, because it is less socially acceptable to voice such opinions or act upon them.
If you are interested in issues surrounding homophobia, you will be interested to read my novel, A Trial of One, the third in The Osgoode Trilogy where Harry Jenkins, the protagonist learns much about love, tolerance and compassion and finds an end to his mild homophobia and discomfort.
I live in Canada, where same sex marriage has been legal for four or five years. I have seen no discernable effect on the institution of marriage. A minister can decline to marry a same sex couple but that is out of respect for that individual clergy who cannot act against his own conscience. That seems to be an appropriate balance.