Michael Crawford

Poll: Should We Abandon Marriage for Civil Unions for Everyone?

Filed By Michael Crawford | March 30, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Bilerico DC, Freedom to Marry, gay rights, marriage vs civil unions

In new post called Marriage vs Civil Unions Bilerico DC contributor John Shields argues that we should abandon the fight for marriage and instead focus on fighting for equal rights.

This has to stop. This war of words between "straight marriage" and "gay marriage" must end, as this particular elephant is sucking the air out of nearly every other issue the LGBTQ community is fighting for in nearly every corner of our country. From hate crimes, to ENDA, to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell legislation pending before the U.S. Congress - it is time to get off the "marriage" train, and get onboard the Equal Rights train.

In my Washington Blade editorial, I argued that it was all about nomenclature. I believed then, as I believe now, that the United States of America should pivot to civil unions for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I argued then, as I do now, that the separation of church and state - enshrined in the American Constitution - demands that we separate the church from what should be a civic matter. Civil unions for all, and then you can (if you so desire) head to your house of worship and "enshrine" your love and commitment in any manner you and your partner so desire.

Have your say after the jump...

John's post ignited a firestorm of controversy on Facebook with some supporting John's position and others including me arguing that it makes no sense for LGBT activists to fight for what is essentially second class status.

What do you think? Should we abandon our fight for marriage equality in favor of civil unions for everyone gay or straight?

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This recurring idea is idiotic...but not as idiotic as bringing it up over and over again...

This is not our concession to make. Our prez doesn't think same sex couples are worthy of the title "marriage" but we are supposed to believe that we can convince the general public that giving everyone a civil union is an equitable solution?

This might (might) sound like a reasonable concession, but the point of the creation of civil unions isn't to find a way to make us feel better. The point is to make sure we are not considered equal to heterosexual couplings. Don't fool yourself. The debate is not about "tolerance" or fairness. The fight over marriage is an attempt to find a way to cling to supremacy and bigotry...and they will not let go until it is pulled from their cold dead hands.

Fighting for civil unions for all is the same thing as saying the seats at the back of the bus are just as nice as the seats in the front. Let's just start calling the entire bus the back of the bus and maybe no one will notice while we continue to make a point of telling you how much we hate you.

Douglas Gibson Jr | March 30, 2009 10:19 AM


Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | March 30, 2009 11:20 AM

The word "parity" does not frighten me. This is particularly true if it includes children, health care, hospital issues, federal and state benefits in all ways equivalent to the "M" word.

As a Gay man caring for a life partner with dementia I am afraid to live in America.


This is but a fickle matter. I absolutely agree that church and state should be separate and that when it comes down to legislation for civil union, there should be equality for everyone, gay, straight, or otherwise. I believe, and I'll say it again, that everyone has the right to pursue his or her happiness under the laws that prevail and regardless of sexual orientation that right should always be respected. I think the confusion for many is how one defines "marriage" as is the case here. In my opinion, "marriage," like so many other institutional laws, creeds, dogma, commandments, is another man made form of control used by the Church for centuries to dictate its ideology on how the world "should" be. So if the church is going to define "marriage" as being only between man and woman then so be it. But what the gov. needs to ask itself is: can it keep "marriage" without mixing religion and state? In my opinion, no. "Marriage" is clearly another institution derived by the church disguised to keep men and women under control and to keep gays and lesbians out, not only in "sanctified union," but out of society and the church's imposed ideology of what it thinks normal. But the Church does not make the law nor can it possibly be a part of legislation if legislation is to respect the many different religions and cultures of American society. That's where Civil Union for all, gay, straight, whatever comes in. If it's the holy sanctity of marriage that you want, then the church is the place to go. If it's the full beneficial rights provided by the agreed, contracted, or whatever union, then it's left to the law to provide without interruption from the church. This gov. cannot respect the rights of all men and women and their ability to pursue happiness, to think and reason for themselves, if it allows the ideologies of the church or any other religion to determine legislation including Civil Union. The name is not the issue, it's the content of what is meant. And if marriage means between man and woman as according to the church, then fine; but if that be the case, the gov. needs to come up with another name for a union that would allow all to be included and benefit from union in sickness and in health, to death do they part.

Call it civil marriage instead of civil unions and you'll have my vote. It is, after all, about civil rights.

I suggest we call it civil marriage rights instead of same sex marriage rights as in, civil marriage rights should apply to all. Hammer away at the fact that GLBT people are not talking about, are not threatening, religious beliefs about marriage.

The wingnuts rely on the confusion between the religious and the civil definitions of marriage. We need to separate the two, as much as we can, and then hammer away at the fact that civil marriage rights are unequal.

bigolpoofter | March 30, 2009 12:30 PM

civil unions??!! kiss my big white butch hairy ass! We must be deliberate in getting off the term "same-sex marriage" to using "civil marriage equality." "Rights" invariably incites bigots who begin flailing about over "special rights" as a distraction, and failing to underscore "civil marriage," not religious marriage, allows the conversation to drift away from the focusing on treatment under the law.

While I agree with this in principle, in reality, it would be a PR nightmare. Imagine the headlines the day after a major LGBT org endorses this: "Gay rights group wants to get rid of marriage."

We'd instantly give a factual basis to all the right-wing fundies who now (falsely) claim to be "protecting marriage." If John Shields thinks that this issue is sucking all the air out of the LGBT movement now, wait until the backlash from folks when we try to abolish straight marriages...

beergoggles | March 30, 2009 11:47 PM

I had the exact thought when I read the article. Good luck convincing all the breeders to give up their marriage for something else.

Practically speaking, I doubt an effort to abolish marriage in favor of civil unions will bear any fruit.

That said, marriage is a double edged sword. On the one hand, yes, it unnecessarily drags religion into every other civil rights aspect of the LGBT struggle. For that reason, I want our movement to be a civil rights movement, not a marriage movement. On the other hand, the current popularity of civil rights legislation is a result of outrage over Prop 8, current symbol of resistance to marriage. So in that sense, marriage is advancing the civil rights dialogue. I wish our movement could seize on the anger of the moment over Prop 8 to push for full equal rights under the various civil rights laws at the federal level while the government is controlled by an allegedly sympathetic party. Once it becomes the public policy of the United States that discrimination based on LGBT status is prohibited, once we can say that LGBT rights are in fact civil rights, I believe it will make it much easier to change the language of the marriage debate. That said, we have to fight this battle on every front, state and federal. Where marriage is in play in the states, or where it can be put in play, let's engage the fight. I'm confident we can persue both a federal civil rights agenda and a state-by-state agenda at the same time. I think we're all capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Aren't we?

People seem to forget that you cannot have a monopoly on WORD USAGE. Etimologists must be smirking at this "word usage debate" in America and elsewhere.

The Christian Right is coddling a CONCEPT, as if their perverted concept of Jesus Christ is Universal Law AND U.S. Law. And we are SOOooOO not going to invent a NEW word for a very old concept - a union of 2 souls. Some may wanna go and get "unioned" or "partnered" or whatever-the-****, but we will still say "I got married, we've been married, my spouse, my husband, our marriage, our wedding anniversary, ever since we were married, our marriage is strong, our marriage was a mistake, and YES - WE GOT DIVORCED" - ETC.

How egotistical and narcissitic to think one can "own" a word! Oye, I need new knickers now.

Etymologists - for those who prefer correct spelling....

Whine, whine, whine. The gay national pastime when the word "marriage" is mentioned. And, yet trans people get bitched at for asking for employment rights. You guys have us beat all to hell in the whining department.

Civil marriage, which is what we are fighting for, does not belong to the church. This cannot be stressed enough. Civil marriage equality does not infringe on a religious institution's right to marry or not marry whomever they please. CUs are a compromise, and perhaps a necessary stepping stone, but our ultimate goal should be firm. We deserve nothing less than what straight people take for granted.

David in Houston | March 30, 2009 6:10 PM

I do think that civil unions for everyone is the right solution. It would put everyone on a level playing field. It would also separate the state/government part from the religious part; which seems to be a big sticking point for most people. Of course, getting the government and religious leaders to go along with it is another issue. I was 'married' to my partner at a court house in California. As far as we were concerned it was a 'civil union' since a church wasn't involved.

It still pisses me off that Canada has had gay marriage for 4 years. Yet I have never heard a single politician bring it up as proof that gay marriage is doable. Canada didn't collapse into a Sodom and Gomorrah. Straight marriage wasn't threatened; and the world has kept on spinning.

It doesn't matter what they call it, they could call it super-glued for all I care, just as long as the government calls it the exact same thing for all couples, same-sex or different-sex, and affords all couples the same rights with it. Furthermore, that this nomenclature and affording of rights transmits through the entire federalist system.

JOURNEY KNIGHT | March 30, 2009 11:54 PM

As a straight women who just turned 41 with no prospective marriage partner in the foreseeable future it is more important for me to unite with your cause for civil unions first - straight people can't find marriage partners and are less sympathetic with the LG cause, but we relate on the civil union issue. I am aging and if I ever find someone it would be leave them my art and foundation responsibilities rather than let the state take my assets. I feel that if we are first united on our common cause than the LG cause can continue to fight for marriage rights all the while being able to have a civil union be binding by law.
One small victory leads to the bigger victory.

What about another option: civil unions and marriage for everyone? Almost what they have here in france, and, yes, lots of people do make a decision to have a civil union (PACS) instead of a marriage!

Not to nitpick, but your poll isn't really valid.

You see you ask "Should the LGBT community continue fighting for marriage equality or fight for civil unions for everyone gay or straight?"
This question cannot be answered with yes or no, as there are two parts to the question seperated by an "or."

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 31, 2009 11:54 AM

Kimber, you do realize that this isn't a scientific poll and that its really about getting people to talk about the issues, right?

Yes I am aware of the purpose of the poll. No need to get defensive. I just thought if it was meant to get people discussing the topic the poll should actually measure something is all.
I forget how 'cliquey' you are here on Bilerico and that only contributers can comment, or at least that's the way it seems. Way to bring the community together guys!

Kimber, that's just not so. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to comment. We are, however, a rather opinionated and enthusiastic group, and many who are new here just aren't prepared for it.

If you've got something to say, say it, but also be prepared to defend yourself if challenged and don't have a thin skin about being challenged. We do play hardball here, but we also play fair.

Personally, as a veteran of more online discussion groups than I can possibly count, both "cliquey" and not, I find the group at Bilerico to be rather egalitarian. We throw you in the deep end and treat you just like everyone else, no matter who you are.

All I was trying to do was point out the flaw in the poll. I figured if he wanted to take a poll of people's opinions that he wanted to know how people felt and this poll does not accurately reflect that. Sorry for interrupting the discussion.

I think the fight for civil unions would be every bit as big as the fight for same-sex marriage. There's still that politically motivated group that doesn't want to see any rights or recognition for same-sex couples.

We're fighting over the people in the middle. "Civil unions" appeal to this group because they seem like a compromise. It won't anti-gay third. It won't appeal to the third who wants full civil rights for gay people. Fighting for civil unions would be our way of losing the (even tepid) support of the middle.

The middle is fine with civil unions, as long as it'll be other people who get them. Once we start telling that middle third that we expect them to get civil unions too, they'll change camps quickly. Like us, they want marriage.

Then we'll have two camps: marriage for straight people vs. civil unions for everyone. In then end, we'll get neither marriage nor civil unions.

I want to improve on my own comment.

Currently, we're saying to people, "marriage is important; you should extend its benefits to same-sex couples."

Going for universal civil unions means saying, "yeah, we know we said that marriage was important, but we'd like you to give it up in solidarity with gay people." No dice.

Going for same-sex civil unions means saying, "we'd like you to make a special effort for us." As state benefits have shown, we had to fight really hard for partial recognition. There are still the people (as in my earlier comment) who want no benefits or recognition for same-sex couples. It's a slog.

I suspect on a Federal level, recognition of same-sex unions could be put off indefinitely. It's a tough issue.

I think we need to work on the repeal of DOMA and marriage equality at a 50-state level.