Guest Blogger

A modest marriage proposal

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 20, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Barack Obama, gay marriage, Joe Biden, Prop 8 protests

Editors' Note: The following is a guest post by Chris Crain. Chris is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and gay publications in three other cities. He blogs at and is the editor of He lives with his partner as a "love exile" in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Gw270h405With the click of a mouse and boots on the street, hundreds of thousands of newly minted activists across the country last weekend declared independence from the top-down, black-tie, this-cutesy-logo-brought-to-you-by movement for gay civil rights.

It took the political perfect storm: the "Yes We Can" spirit behind Barack Obama's election, running smack up against the "Oh No You Don't" passage of Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in California.

The result was Stonewall 2.0. No corporate sponsors, no tony Washington, D.C., offices, and not a single poll or focus group. Just tech-savvy young activists pulling off day after day of street protests in California, followed by a massive mobilization on Nov. 15, a National Day of Protest in big cities and small towns across these United States.

In handmade signs signed off on by no one, gay and straight alike made their case for equality, and rejected en-masse the inane "strategery" of avoiding words like "marriage," "discrimination" and "gay" because they didn't poll well.

"No More Mrs. Nice Gay"
"Keep your church out of our state"
"Would you rather I married your daughter?"
"You get married in your church, I'll get married in mine."
"Hey California, Jim Crow called. He wants his Proposition 8 back."

Gw320h240These protesters weren't buying the namby-pamby "gay agenda" our so-called leaders have already agreed to behind closed doors in Washington. Those Beltway-based Democrats have collected our checks and counted our votes for a decade with promises to pass hate crime and employment non-discrimination laws. Belatedly keeping their word is a beginning, not the end.

What do we want, then? Repealing Proposition 8, of course, but that's not even an option until 2010, at the earliest, and may well be taken care of by the legal eagles already challenging the ballot measure in the courts. Even if Prop 8 is reversed, we are only back to where we were on Nov. 3, leaving the vast majority of same-sex couples across America with little or no recognition for their relationships or prospects for same.

Gw333h500 That's why a growing number of us have our own modest marriage proposal. Call it Proposition 9, or Prop -8, if you'd like. It would instantly confer more than 1,200 rights and benefits to same-sex couples in every single city, state and small town in the U.S., and it's already supported by two-thirds of Americans.

What is it?
A federal civil unions law.

What would it do? A federal civil unions law would say that all the rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples under federal law would be extended to same-sex couples whose relationships are recognized under state law.

What kind of rights are we talking about? Hundreds and hundreds -- 1,269 to be exact, according to the G.A.O. -- including "real life" benefits like equal access to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, veterans and disability survivor benefits, access to health insurance, rental and other housing insurance, education grants and programs, first-time home buyer credits, property transfer rights, consumer credit protections, domestic violence protection, and a wide range of tax benefits and protections.

Gw610h547_2 It also includes immigration and asylum rights, which means no more "love exiles," LGBT Americans forced to make a heartbreaking "Sophie's Choice" between remaining in the U.S. and the non-American partner they love.

Who would it include? Everybody! It doesn't matter where you live. There are no residency requirements for lesbian and gay couples to marry in Massachusetts or Connecticut, enter into civil unions in Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey, or domestic partnerships in California, Hawaii, Washington or Oregon. For the price of a round-trip ticket to any of these places, a same-sex couple can solemnize their relationship under state law and receive the same recognition under federal law as a heterosexual married couple.

What about the Defense of Marriage Act? What about it? A federal civil unions law does not run afoul of foul-smelling DOMA, and does not require its full or even half-repeal. DOMA says only that the U.S. government can't use "marriage" or "spouse" for gay relationships, and one state can't be forced to recognize another state's gay marriages. A federal civil unions law does neither.

Gw404h325_2 What would the public say? A federal civil unions law does what the people say they want, since for years surveys say two-thirds favor gay couples having the rights and benefits of marriage, just not the "M-word" itself. Even a majority of delegates to the Republican National Convention this year told pollsters they support civil unions for same-sex couples.

What would Obama say? The president-elect and his running mate don't support gay marriage, but both have been on record for months supporting fair and equal treatment of gay couples under federal law.

The "Obama-Biden Plan" on Civil Rights, announced on the transition team website ( includes this promise: "Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to ... enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions."

Even Sarah Palin didn't object when Joe Biden in effect promised federal civil union protection in the vice presidential debate.

"Look," Biden said, "in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple."

Say it's so, Joe. The Prop 8 protesters couldn't have put it better.


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I have to say that Chris Crain and I have rarely, if any, agreed with one another, all the way back when he was just the editor of Southern Voice. But, in this case, I do agree with him.

It's much better to challenge DOMA and hold President elect Obama to his word that he will repeal it. DOMA is a violation of the Establishement Clause (separation of church and state)and it is unconstitutional A Federal Civil Union could be chipped away or altered. Not so with a full civil marriage. Religions are given the priviledge of conducting marriage, but it is priviledge and could be taken away. Not all religions oppose same-sex marriage. Why do you suggest Federal Civil Unions just because a segment of the population doesn't want same sex couples to marry ? Why didn't they do that in Loving v Virginia. Because it is unconstitutional. Our system is not just mob rule. We have individual liberties protected by the judiciary. Majorities are frequently wrong. You have to look at what the majority thinks and doubt its wisdom, because the majority of Americans have often been wrong througout history. To make any constitutional concession to religious people is wrong.

I agree as well, but I'd take it one step further and make everyone happy: Call it "civil marriage". That way there's no question ever as to the level of rights inherent in it and no one can confuse it with religious marriage. Gays get to call themselves married and the bigots get to keep their religious status of their own marriages (at least in their own minds) and continue feeling morally superior to everyone else.

Sounds like a winner all the way around, no?

I have no problem with the proposal per se (in fact, I find it encouraging to see someone like Crain willing to accept a form of 'incremental progress.)

On the other hand, if, on the priority scale, this thing hops over the issue of trans-inclusivity, then I smell trouble.

Karen Collett | November 20, 2008 2:10 PM

WRT "separate but equal" approach, the California Supreme Court spoke to this; from page 11 of the In re Marriage Cases decision:

[...] Second, retaining the traditional definition of marriage and affording same-sex couples only a separate and differently named family relationship will, as a realistic matter, impose appreciable harm on same-sex couples and their children, because denying such couples access to the familiar and highly favored designation of marriage is likely to cast doubt on whether the official family relationship of same-sex couples enjoys dignity equal to that of opposite-sex couples. Third, because of the widespread disparagement that gay individuals historically have faced, it is all the more probable that excluding same-sex couples from the legal institution of marriage is likely to be viewed as reflecting an official view that their committed relationships are of lesser stature than the comparable relationships of opposite-sex couples. Finally, retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite- sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise — now emphatically rejected by this state — that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples.

Sorry if this comes off as melodramatic, but African-Americans weren't fighting for separate-but-slightly-more-equal laws. Suffragists weren't fighting for the right to vote, but only one that counted for slightly less than a man's. Ghandi didn't starve himself for only partial independence from Britain.

We've been scaling back our goals for decades and what it earned us what the Human Rights Campaign, their boundless thirst for our cash, and the weak-kneed "action" the aforementioned cash paid for. I'm sorry to take umbrage with your idea, but I'm honestly sick of this sort of thing. If civil unions are truly equal, then why don't we see straight couples getting them?

If marching in DC last weekend left me with anything, it was the realization that it's finally on. No settling - full equality, and we'll keep fighting until we get there.

No, one judicial decision was what Loving came down to - not anything from the President or Congress. You're comparing apples to oranges, HJB.

The history of the African-American civil rights struggle did include Presidential orders and Congressional movement. There were several amendments made to the constitution - incrementally - that gave African-Americans the freedom they deserved. They were patient and plodding; they kept demanding more and more of their rights and not just an "all now or nothing" approach.

I think Chris is dead on the money. Great post, Chris. I'd sign on board.

Why aren't all of the ba-zillion NON-religious heterosexual couples barred from getting married? Aren't theirs "civil marriages"

THEY use the word. I don't understand.

Screw the word, those bigots can keep their word, definition, and whatever else Merriam-Webster has to say about "marriage". We don't need it, we just want equal rights. If that means calling a relation a civil union that's fine. Kind of like parasols and umbrellas if you want to think of it that way.


You make a good point bringing up the reasoning with the California Supreme Court decision. They basically said what the U.S. Supreme established in Brown v. Board of Education...separate is not equal.

But I like Crain's idea. HJB, I agree with you, and I'm mad as hell too. My Mom didn't raise me to sit in the back of the bus. But sometimes we have to take a reality check. Let's get "civil unions." The majority says they're fine with it, and the American Taliban even says they're for equal treatment (just don't touch their marriages). OK, call their bluff. They've said all along civil unions are fine, so let's get civil unions.

In the meantime, hopefully there will have been a couple more balanced and progressive SCOTUS appointments. Then we can come along and say, "Civil Unions...separate is not equal." And the court will go along, and we have what we want.

The AmTaliban will whine and cry and kick and scream, but by then the country will be too far left for them to ever pass a federal constitutional amendment. I like this idea.

To me, what the California and Connecticut marriage decisions indicate is that having a robust civil union law may actually make it easier to legally knock down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional. If you are providing all the same benefits to all couples, but are only giving a "dignified" name to opposite-sex couples, the only reason for doing so is animus towards same-sex couples. The Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans held that animus towards gays and lesbians is not a legitimate government justification. Accordingly, if the ultimate goal is to get rid of DOMA, and if Congress seems to be a dead end, a federal civil union recognition law might be useful in exposing the unconstitutionality of DOMA.

You're exactly right, John and Andy. No one is talking about giving up the fight for marriage or accepting separate-unequal, second-class citizenship. Civil unions are an important step, and can even be used by the courts to take us that last mile, if necessary.

But remember -- no is married by the federal government, so the wording issue -- while important! -- isn't as crucial as it is at the state level.

Repealing DOMA would accomplish the same thing as a federal civil unions statute, and if we can do it, I'm all for it! But civil unions are a more immediately achievable step that would bring about real, dramatic progress in hundreds of thousands of lives, especially in the red states with constitutional amendments that ban them, for the time being, from marrying gay couples.

We are years and years away from wiping the books of those anti-gay amendments, and the time is now -- with the Democrats firmly in control.

No one is saying to forget about ENDA or hate crimes -- but these have been promised for YEARS and are a beginning, not the end. Let's put our energy into holding President-elect Obama and the congressional Democrats accountable to their promise that our relationships will be treated equally under federal law!


It was you who railed on at length for months about the need to abandon transfolk so gays could get theirs. You remain steadfastly committed to abandoning transfolk, and publicizing this view.

What blows me way is how quickly all the commentors here suddenly forgot about transpeeps when they smelled something for them. Of course, this behavior is quite typical. Gays will cheerfully slit trans throats is you dangle a civil union in front of them. And as you have so capably demonstrated, they will toot their horn about it with pride to all the world.

Don't worry...when the time comes, flushing transfolk down the crapper will go down easy for LGB America. They do have the benefit of experience and demonstrated competence in this area.

Because they have shown their true colors over and over again.

Alyssa, I don't get it. How is a proposal for federal recognition of state-sanctioned civil unions, which would be equally available to trans and non-trans people, "cheerfully slit[ting] trans throats"?

Because, as GLB only leaders like Mr Crain have advocated for, gay effort on trans issues is inappropriate. Further, he advocates denying trans rights as a useful bargaining tool to achieve GLB only rights.

He is the originator of the term "trans jacking" of gay only legislation to refer to transinclusive legislation.

His stance on ENDA and other legislation helped legitimize murders of trans women by showing the world that gays and lesbians would cheerfully deny trans rights if it helped them.

And rights denied for transfolk means dead trans women. This is fact.

Mr Crain is known for his use of transmisogynistic language on his blog, which I refuse to link, including he phrase "man in a dress."

So, although I understand your wish to believe any good news for LGB folks, please consider the source.

Mr Crain is a demonstrated enemy of transpeople, and trans women in particular.

He is not to be trusted, unless you feel that transfolk are expendable.

Put it this way:
Look at the posters here.
1) Known trans hater Crain posts something that looks good for LGB (and just maybe T) folks
2) People go gaga over it, gushing praise.
3) Lgb types and trans go along, believing all is well
4) history repeats itself, with trans cut out at the last minute. with the LGB rationalizing their own gains, as before.

Maybe if you were one of the burned, you would not be so eager to trust a proven hater.

I agree that a federal civil union would be a big step in the right direction giving equal rights to so many people throughout the US. Let's hope this can actually happen. In countries like Canada, civil unions came first with equal rights, and same-sex marriage followed (which for immigration holds more weight than a civil union for some reason). Not that Canada is like the US. I agree that separate is not equal and hope that one day marriage will be civil and not tied to religion. Only then can everyone be equal.

Opponents will see clearly that the bill would open grounds for a SCOTUS challenge to DOMA. This bill will see just as much opposition as the repeal of DOMA would once Republicans smarten up to the implication of passing such a bill.