The topics of “gay marriage” and the Minnesota marriage amendment have been the source of considerable discussion over these last several months. Those for the amendment, anticipating judicial intervention, want to protect the status quo where the state grants special status and privileges to the union of one man and one woman and their children. Many holding this view claim that changing the norm will further harm the already battered institutions of marriage and family. Many opposed to the amendment want to extend marriage benefits to gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships, claiming that the current marriage law is discriminatory.
What’s being debated isn’t “gay marriage” at all – it’s actually unrestricted civil union. Well almost. Any two people of legal age will be able to get one if they’re of sound mind, not currently in a union and not close relatives. Having met these requirements, they merely need to pay a nominal license fee, wait a few days and have their union certified. In states that permit same sex unions, there is no requirement for co-habitation, sharing living expenses, a loving relationship, permanence or even physical contact. There is certainly no requirement to disclose their sexual behavior. Imagine the howl if that sort of privacy violation were proposed.
What judges have done – and I believe will continue to do without constitutional protection – is to effectively eliminate the special status given to marriage by opening up marriage benefits to everyone who meets the new minimum requirements. This will be the new legal status quo. Gays and lesbians will make up a tiny fraction of the same-sex couples who will be eligible to form civil unions. Given the relative ease of obtaining and dissolving one, over time, we can expect many people will enter into civil unions strictly for the financial benefit. It will be perfectly legal, so why wouldn’t they?
Will these civil unions be limited to just pairs of adults? Does the state have a compelling reason to restrict unions between same sex family members since procreation is not possible? Should all privileges and benefits (including adoption) be granted equally to all civil unions? If not, how will we decide who gets what benefits? How will employers and government deal with expanded eligibility to “spousal” benefits such as social security and pensions? Will “husband and wife” be considered biased, forcing schools to adopt generic terms like “partners”? We can expect years of legal wrangling as we struggle to sort out these and many other issues.
We are discussing a massive social experiment here, one that has ramifications beyond headlines and sound bites. If we eliminate the special status of marriage, we reduce it to a simple legal device. We all have a vote in that decision. I urge everyone to quit vilifying the other side, engage in civil discourse and think carefully about what’s really at stake.
– The writer lives in Forest Lake.