19 January 2009

What About Unmarried Heteros?

I've been thinking about this whole Common Ground Initiative in Utah. I want to show support for gay couples to have the opportunity for hospital visitation, employment protection, etc.

Yet as I read the web sites organizing online campaigns, I'm left feeling hesitant, particularly regarding some of the benefits they claim gay couples are denied, particularly when it comes to the question: are they denied rights other unmarried mixed-gender/heterosexual couples are granted?

Maybe I shouldn't hesitate so much over this question, particularly where gay people can't marry even if they want to, so they either need to be allowed civil unions or some of the rights married people are allowed. Maybe I should be gung ho and vocal in my support for these campaigns...but I'm not sure I fully support everything they're after, and not knowing which parts I fully support, or whether I fully trust their motives, gives me pause, and it's uncomfortable. I'm not sure how much of the "common ground" initiative really is common ground, as I expressed in a previous post.

Forgive my apparently schizophrenic thoughts, here, ranting against discriminatory, closed-minded politics in one post then questioning the very measures opposed by the discrimination-mongers in the next.

But...what are the criteria for gay couples to be allowed these rights? Will unmarried heterosexual couples receive the same opportunities? If not, are these bills inherently discriminatory? Can we afford to open up these rights to unmarried couples of all mixes and orientations? Is it acceptable to counter discriminatory law with more discriminatory law?

There are at least two measures I know I support: nobody should be fired simply for dating or wanting to date a member of the same gender (unless that fact impedes their ability to fulfill their job, however that might be), and nobody should be denied the permission, when granted by their partner, to visit them in the hospital or make medical decisions where necessary. I support similar measures that deal with basic partnership and companionship privileges and rights.

But call me crazy, I want equality to be equality. If we set up rights for gay couples, the same rights should be available to heterosexual couples. Of course, I still think the clearest answer is to get government's grubby mits out of marriage altogether, let government take care of civil unions and accompanying rights, and grant civil unions to committed couples based on criteria available to all people...shoot, I'm not sure I can argue clearly against plural marriage if that's the case. Maybe I don't care to, deep down. When done "right", who is it hurting? I mean, it would have to be allowed to go both ways, though. One woman, ten men. 3 men, 4 women, whatever.

Man, this marriage and rights thing is messy. Does anyone have any good sources for information outlining some of these rights gay couples are supposedly denied and whether those same rights are available to unmarried heterosexual couples?


Chedner said...

Hmm... let's look at this a little more closely.

Not allowing gays to marry creates a situation where unmarried heterosexual couples have claim to marriage-like benefits without the burden of commitment.

I'm confused, what is muddying the concept of heterosexual marriage?

Scott said...

It seems pretty simple to me... If we specifically remove a batch of rights from a group of people through legislation, and then restore a subset of those rights through additional legislation, that additional legislation is not really discriminatory--it's simply undoing some of the discrimination of the original legislation.

Right now you're seeing the Common Ground Initiative as legislation that would grant rights to unmarried gay couples that unmarried straight couples don't get. Take the unmarried part out of the equation and look at it from another angle. The Common Ground Initiative would simply be giving gay couples rights that straight couples already have available to them through marriage (an option that gay couples are denied).

I agree that we're making things unnecessarily complicated. The simplest solution to all of the conflict would simply be to allow gay people to get married. Slightly less simple but also less controversial would be to eliminate "marriage" from the government's vocabulary altogether and grant civil unions to all couples, with "marriage" being the sole domain of the churches. Unfortunately I don't see either of these happening anytime soon.

On the subject of polygamy, I agree that as long as we're not talking about the forced marriage of minors in AZ and southern UT that captures the news headlines every once in a while there should be no legal prohibition against multiple consenting adults entering some sort of legal relationship called a "civil union" or "marriage" or whatever.

... and on the subject of rights, check out equalitymatters.org for a list of the 1138 federal rights (not all marriage-related) that gay and lesbian Americans are denied.

Kengo Biddles said...

O-Mo, you've spoken in this post exactly the words I myself have said many a time. Glad to see we're on the same wavelength. Let equality be equality, end of story.


Original Mohomie said...

Chedner, but it's exactly what you mention (the burden of commitment) which makes me wonder. The question that is being largely passed over by these coalitions (perhaps because most supporters don't care about potential injustice as long as it's geared in the right direction?): what IS the burden of commitment applied to homosexual couples to earn these "rights"?

I understand the notion that granting rights to gay couples is simply offering a measure of rights they are denied because they can't marry. But what couples are eligible for those rights? Are they being extended to ALL unmarried couples, without discrimination based on sexual orientation? Can businesses sustain the added burden of insurance coverage and benefits for all unmarried couples? Is there a cohabitation requirement of a certain number of years or legal agreement that comes with risks as well as rights?

I'm familiar with the huge list of rights supposedly denied to gay couples, but that doesn't answer my questions.

The pushers of the Common Ground Initiative are so busy crying equal rights that they're not explaining what, exactly, the bills entail or whether they introduce new discrimination into law, and I want those questions answered before I can confidently proclaim my support. They're not doing a good job, in my opinion, of informing the public what the bills accomplish beyond "equality" unless people research on their own.

I've looked up a few sites that may help answer my questions, but I don't have time to comb through them right now. Maybe later:


Scott said...

I still think maybe we're making this more complicated than it is... Here are the issues that the Common Ground Initiative proposes to address through legislation:


Fair Employment: let's make it illegal to fire someone because they're gay. This has nothing to do with marriage, civil unions, or commitment, so I assume this isn't part of this discussion.


Fair Housing: let's make it illegal to evict someone from their home because they're gay. This may not appear to have anything to do with gay partnerships on the surface, but in reality it might: Zoning ordinances designate some houses as "single-family dwellings" and a non-married gay couple is technically in violation of those ordinances and could be forced to comply under threat of hefty fines.

From what I see on the Equality Utah website, though, the language of the bill is specifically directed at landlords in reference to non-discrimination, so perhaps this one, too, should be ignored for the purposes of this discussion.


Wrongful Deaths: Would remove barriers to inheritance and insurance (presumably life insurance?) I don't know enough about current laws to know what those barriers are, but I assume that the issue is that it's easier for family to inherit than it is for non-family (especially in the absence of a formally drafted will). I think we would need to leave it up to the courts to decide who stands to inherit when disputes arise, but if a same-sex partner is currently out of the running to inherit on the death of his partner and could be made a candidate by new legislation, I'm all for it.


Expanding Health Care: This is the one that seems most likely to fall in line with the concerns you've expressed... What sort of "commitment" should an unmarried same-sex couple need to show before a partner can be given health benefits? The thing is, for any company I've ever dealt with adding a spouse to an insurance plan involves some additional expense (in the form of paycheck deductions) and no small amount of hassle. Someone in a potentially volatile relationship would be foolish to sign their partner du jour up on their plan, especially given the insurance companies' typical refusal to cover pre-existing conditions for some period of time, etc. Hopping from one insurance plan to another as you hop from one partner to another is not the best way to cover your healthcare. Because of this, there's a built-in requirement for some level of commitment, I think.


Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act: From what I understand, this one sort of rolls some of the others together and actually provides some of the "official-ness" that I think you're looking for. It would create a "domestic partner registry" that some rights of inheritance, insurance and fair housing (presumably things like the single-family zoning issue I mentioned) would be attached to. It's not the "equal to marriage" civil unions or domestic partnerships that some states have, but it is something that provides some sort of official stamp of approval on a relationship (presumably non-gender-specific) that some of these rights we're discussing would be based on.


Clarifying Amendment 3: Of course, the registry mentioned above might currently be considered illegal, since Utah's Amendment 3 says that "no other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as marriage or be given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect". It depends on what "substantially equivalent" means, and that's what this part of the Common Ground Initiative would seek clarification on.


In a nutshell, as far as I can tell the parts of the CGI that specifically mention gay people are geared more towards individuals (fair employment, fair housing) while those that deal with couples appear to be more gender-neutral, so I think your fears of possible reverse-discrimination are perhaps ungrounded.

I also think I've rambled and meandered a bit in this comment, so if my thoughts weren't all that coherent, I apologize. :)

Chedner said...

Your wonder is exactly what I mean. There is no burden of commitment.

Commitment is being thrown out the window here.

Commitment is being soiled for the sake of retaining exclusivity of a word.

If we stay on this path, people will be able to enjoy the perks of marriage without having to make a lifelong commitment.

That's why many of us are pushing for the word marriage. We want to make sure commitment is part of the process -- not just benefits and rights.

But to say, "I don't oppose marriage-like rights, just the usage of the word 'marriage'" on one hand and then say, "Well, I don't know which marriage-like rights you should get because there's really no sense of commitment" on the other is... well, two faced chicken-shit.

(Not that I'm saying that's what you're saying.)

Original Mohomie said...

Scott, thanks for spoon-feeding me a bit. That's exactly what I was looking for. :-) When I get a chance, I'll look into it more myself to make more educated decisions about it all. But if what you say is true, then the "reverse discrimination" concern may, in fact, not be enough of an issue to worry about.

Chedner, I don't think I agree with your sharp closing comment, but I'm also not interested enough to debate it, so you get a free pass. :-)