The original comment on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog that inspired my response:
I haven't quite digested the issues involved in Gay marriages. I suspect many African Americans went into the voting boots uninformed as well. In so far as the issue is about names, meaning gays are whining about the word marriage itself rather than equal benefits and treatments then I suspect there is no real discrimination... I don't understand why Gay's would be unhappy with the word Civil Unions or any other word such as Domestic Partnership for statutes that represent them, if they have equal treatments. Its quite ludicrous to demand names....its quite silly. And please don't equate this with racism, marriage is custom practiced by heterosexuals. I assure you this is not a way to discriminate you but you are gay....its reality...You should demand equal treatments and benefits not equal names....so silly.
Posted by Hassa | November 11, 2008 8:14 PM
There are three reasons why "civil unions" and "domestic partnerships" are not an acceptable alternative, although they constitute an admitted improvement over no familial protections whatsoever...
1) With few exceptions, most DPs do not provide all the same rights of marriage within the state or locality that institutes them. Most civil unions do provide an equal level of protection, on the state level only. Which leads to....
2) Even if all 50 states had full-fledged civil unions, only the marriage rights and benefits controlled by the states would be applied. NO Federal rights of any kind would apply, and there are more than 1,000 Federally-sanctioned benefits to the status of marriage. A very relevant one for many people is being able to marry (or civilly unite with) your partner who is from another country. Impossible for LGBT people without full Federal marriage. Which leads to...
3) If at some point, there exists a Federal-level civil union status that is equal to marriage in all but name, it will be subject to the "separate but equal" legal argument; this argument was successfully used in the Connecticut Supreme Court to convert civil unions into equal marriage.
The practices and "customs" of "heterosexual" marriage are far less homogenous than anyone should suppose without plenty of research. And in the end, it comes down to more than a name, it comes down to a class distinction. How would you feel if AAs couldn't get married, but could only get "blarried", with limited rights and benefits as opposed to everyone else? Sure, you'd be pleased to have some protections, but some part of you would hope that someday, the government at least, and society at best, would recognize your "blarriage" as a marriage.
Also, and I can't believe I almost forgot this, the legal status of DPs and civil unions is so complicated in most places that GLBT folk are advised to seek legal counsel before entering into one so that they'll be aware of what they're getting into. For example: I live in Boston, but I'm moving next summer to go to law school. My partner and I could get married here, and our marriage would be fully legal in the state, but not for Federal purposes. If I go to school in NY, most institutions (but not all, and who knows which ones) will recognize our marriage. If I move to DC, we can have a DP, but who knows if we have to dissolve our marriage to get a DP, or if it automatically converts. If we move to CA, well, just who knows at this point LOL. If we moved to most other places, our marriage would simply cease to exist, but still be in existence in the state of Massachusetts. It's so complicated, and there's just no need when it is a government contract we are demanding and nothing more. There's very little about it that is actually "silly". :)
Having said all that, thank you for asking the questions. :)