Alex Blaze

Federal civil unions?

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 28, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: California, domestic partnership, Jason Bellini, Jerry Nadler, joe solmonese, LGBT, marriage, New Jersey, same-sex marriage

There's a great interview for those interested in DOMA repeal up right now on the Bay Area Reporter with Rep. Jerry Nadler. Talk of federal civil unions hasn't really picked up all that much steam among either LGBT's or Congress, but Californians who can only domestically partner now would have a stake in a system like that:

Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-New York), in an exclusive interview with the B.A.R. while attending the annual Human Rights Campaign gala in San Francisco Saturday, July 25, ruled out including anything other than legally recognized marriages in the legislation he plans to introduce either this week or once Congress returns from its August recess.

"No, it will not include domestic partnerships or civil unions. It is going to be just marriage," said Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and therefore, will be the lead sponsor of legislation aimed at repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

It's disappointing, since those are federal protections unmarried people could have and deserve just as much as married couples. Also, I'm not really all that optimistic about either the federal suit to overturn Prop 8 or the chances or overturning it at the ballot box in 2010. As much as many of the people involved in the fight want to make it about the word marriage itself, federal recognition of Californian DP's would materially benefit same-sex couples more than switching over to the word marriage in that state would.

HRC's on board, but something tells me Jason Bellini won't be writing anything about how Joe Solmonese is trading away DP's and CU's for marriage:

HRC President Joe Solmonese said it makes sense to restrict the debate over repealing DOMA only to recognition of same-sex marriage.

"We ought to start it with what we would ultimately achieve, a wholesale overturning of DOMA," he said.

Nadler said that including domestic partnerships or civil unions in his legislation "gets very complicated" because the laws governing such legally recognized relationships are "different in every state." Also, he said it would cloud the legislation's end goal, which is ensuring all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, have the right to marry.

"Historically domestic partnerships and other relationships have been an interregnum until we get to marriage, which we need to push for as soon as possible," said Nadler, adding that he could not predict what chances the legislation has of passage. "We have to see what reaction we get. It won't pass this year."

It's all pretty messy, and I know that turning around the discourse on relationship recognition from one that focuses on taking families headed by same-sex couples into the marriage fold to one focused on helping families themselves, no matter the marital status of the people involved, isn't going to happen overnight. It's a big ship and our national organizations don't have much motivation to turn it around and most people have already come to see anything outside of same-sex marriage as impossible, even if it's the solution that states were enacting before states outside of Massachusetts started recognizing same-sex marriage.

This next bit is great. Too bad it means Nadler's bill will never pass:

During his prepared remarks, Nadler said he would include the "certainty provision" in his bill in order to give same-sex couples and their families peace of mind that should they move to a state that does not allow same-sex couples to wed their marriage would still be valid.

That effectively means same-sex marriage would be legal everywhere in the US, and it'll never pass. Even though Nadler's office clarified that the certainty provision would just mean that same-sex marriages would be reconized anywhere in the country for federal purposes, it'll be labeled "Gay marriage legalized in the US."

A Congress that isn't able to get a suspension of DADT discharges through won't be able to legalize same-sex marriage.

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At the same time, the moment (however far away it is) this passes will give a weapon to those pushing for an upgrade or wanting to forego the DP/CU proposals entirely. They'll be able to argue that they're being adversely affected if the legislators were to legalize DP/CU's in the state instead of marriage, because they won't receive federal recognition like the states who extend marriage would.

But, yes, everything at the moment is fluff, and I see marriage equality coming sooner from the courts than from legislation.

So basically we'd be making things worse for gay families in lagging states in hopes that this will garner enough sympathy to gain them greater rights. :/ As a Californian I don't think I like that plan. Federal law has in my experience always been too nebulous and shifting anyway to ever be very useful in convincing people prop. 8 is wrong...

I mean, if this can actually pass then I'd be happy to take what we can get, but I have to ask if this is actually a bill that's intended to pass. I can't help but notice Baldwin, Frank and Pelosi are so far silent on this bill. Does Nadler have an idea of how and when he's going to get this bill through Congress? Or is this going to get some nice blog press and then disappear?

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 28, 2009 5:36 PM

"It's all pretty messy."

Alex, you are a master at understatement.

I think the automatic demonization of "civil unions" as not only being an imperfect incremental (that awful, awful word) step, but as some kind of intrinsic evil in its own right, has helped create the mess and the inertia that tends to keep that big ship you refer to just going in the same direction.

But then it seems as if the term "making the perfect the enemy of the good" isn't playing very well on several fronts these days.

Speaking of which, I think Amnesty International just released a statement calling them "second class citizenship" in Ireland. That's been an interesting battle to follow, in that country, because there have been all-out protests against civil unions out there.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 29, 2009 6:59 AM

Alex, do you know anything about the nature of the controlversy in Ireland? Are the protests because the rights and benefits conferred under civil unions are not as great as those conferred by marriage? Or are they declared fully equivalent by the law itself?

I don't know the specifics, but everything I've read implies that the rights would be less than those of marriage. Here are a couple good articles about the protest:

Ah, this one's better when it comes to info about the bill. And they were already protesting:

Yeah, it looks like the rights would be less, but I don't know specifics. I need to find a gay legal blogger in Ireland to find out more!

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 29, 2009 7:57 AM

I've scanned enough of the links you provided to see that marriage and "civil partnership" in Ireland are clearly unequal. So the term "second class citizenship" seems a fitting description.

But would there still be marching in the streets and condemnation by Amnesty International if, like I believe is the case in a number of jurisdictions, the law creating/recognizing such partnerships declared them to bestow the same rights, benefits, obligations, etc., as did the marriage law?

Perhaps so, but then I suppose separate restrooms with equivalent facilities is, in the words of SCOTUS in "Brown vs. Board of Education" are also viewed as "badges of inferiority" in some quarters. Out of the stalls and into the streets.
Larry Craig, are you listening?

Lynn David Lynn David | July 29, 2009 4:07 AM

I don't see that Federal civil unions are doable for the same reason I think the DOMA is unconstitutional. The federal government has nothing to say about the personal unions/marriages between two people. Even though it has at times intruded into states rights and forced alignment to a national norm (such as not allowing Utah into the union unless the Mormons/Utah legislature outlawed plural marriages). Let's just get rid of DOMA and let constitutional law fall as it should, into recognition of marriages of all states in all other states.

Yeah, rather naive....