Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why We Fight

Alright, today's staff editorial in the paper is dumb, even by IDS "standards." And it has a dumb argument. And it's just generally a waste of paper.

The subject? Gay marriage yet again one more time already. Which is already a dumb issue. Recently, it's been made dumber by the fact that the Indiana State Senate moved a proposed gay marriage ban amendment to the state's constitution out of committee and onto the floor for voting. It's been in committee for 2 years already, after having passed the House in 2005. (Amendments to the state constitution in Indiana must first clear both houses and then be put before a newly-elected legislature. This bill will now have to pass the Senate and, if successful, also the House, after which point it must be approved by a majority of Indiana voters on a general ballot to go into effect.) But of course, the only thing dumber than writing an editorial on a dumb bill is writing an editorial on an imaginary dumb bill, and guess who went and did that?

The amendment reads: "This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

It does not "require" that benefits of marriage be conferred on unmarried couples. But we worry that the amendment is as close as one word change away from not "allowing" partner benefits to anyone without an official marriage license.

Jeez, where to start? First of all, kids, it's generally true of the overwhelming majority of sentences not just in English but in every human language that they are "one word change away" from meaning the opposite of what they say. Consider - "The bystander saved his life!" Change saved to destroyed or ended and you have something else entirely. So WHAT? So we should all be very careful to include lists of synonyms in all our statements just be sure they're not "one word change away" from meaning something they don't?

But more to the point, the law goes into the books the way it's actually worded, not the way you imagine it might be worded. If this bill clears all its legal hurdles (and it's really not obvious it will), it will require an equal effort to get even that one little word changed.

Never mind all that, says the IDS - it's ever so much more fun to argue against a bill that doesn't actually exist!

At IU, domestic-partner benefits include medical and dental coverage and life insurance. The amendment calls into question an unmarried couple's right to ensure they are properly cared for in times of sickness. IU also offers funeral and sick time off as well as standard family and medical leave provisions. But this amendment could call into question an employee's right to take time off if a longtime same-sex partner suddenly died.

No it bloody wouldn't! Nor would it. Nor can it. Nor - oh, Christ, where do you people come up with this stuff? Here's the text of the amendment:

Marriage in Indiana consists only of the union of one man and one woman.

This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Emphasis on the "require." It doesn't say anything about institutions choosing to confer "the legal incidents of marriage." And indeed, IU has been offering domestic-partner benefits for 6 years already with no legal troubles despite the fact that gay marriage is officially not recognized in Indiana.

The wording of this bill is not a stealth attempt to prohibit organizations from offering partnership benefits to people if they deem it in their interest to do so. It's designed to head off very real legal challenges, like this one from four years ago, in which the ACLU sued the state on behalf of couples "unioned" in Vermont who came home to find (as if they didn't know!) that their certificates were no good here. This, it seems to me, is just common sense. Companies should not be required to offer benefits to domestic partners - hetero-, homo- or otherwise sexual - if they don't deem it in their interest to do so. Trust me - the market will take care of this in most cases. If a gay dude is a hot item for hire, and he has a live-in boyfriend he calls a "wife" and wants health insurance for this guy, he'll get it if he's worth the dough. As for others, it's true that it's illegal to ask whether or not someone is married, but there are ways of making clear that you're gay. Under the current system, some companies may actually prefer to hire gays because they know they won't have to pay partner benefits. This advantage evaporates the moment civil unions are recognized in this state.

In any case, there's nothing in this bill that explicitly prohibits gays from getting benefits for their partners.

Alright, but then why have the bill at all? What's so wrong with allowing marriage, or even civil unions, that we need a constitutional ban to prevent it? Nothing substantive, I say. Personally, I'd rather the govenrment not be recognizing marriages at all (this should be handled by a private contract system). But since it does recognize traditional marriages, I guess I don't really have a problem with it recognizing homosexual marriages too. But I think we should be realistic about this. First, marriage as a homosexual institution is a very new thing. It's not at all clear that the homosexual community at large has a sustainable marriage culture. It's certainly true enough that a lot of gay people are getting married these days, but that's not the same thing as saying that gay marriage is of such cultural importance that the government needs to step in and regulate it, as it does in the case of heterosexuals. And indeed - statistics aren't really available for this yet in the US, but the numbers from Holland, Sweden and Norway clearly show that homosexuals marry less and divorce more quickly than hetero couples (Denmark is possibly an exception).

IDS writes:

Furthermore, the wording clearly defines a group of people that the state would say do not deserve the same rights.

But it's just not clear to me that gay people have a "right" to participate in a cultural institution that has traditionally been both religious and heterosexual. As I said, I don't really mind if they do (I myself am neither traditional nor religious), but a "right" to marry? Erm, not so sure about that. What would justify such a right? Do polygamists also have this right, then?

The fact that a gay faculty member at IU can cover his or her partner's twice-a-year teeth cleaning doesn't threaten Indiana society.

Right. Nor does this amendment say that it does. All it really says is that the fact that Massachusetts issues gay marriage certificates need mean nothing to Indiana companies. Homosexual marriage has been forbidden by Indiana law for a long time now; the only reason this amendment is even on the table is because gay "rights" activists have an unnerving tendency to shop for courts that are willing to overturn the popular will on imaginary interpretations of the law.

I'll be honest - if this goes before the general public I'll be tempted to vote for it. I won't in the end, I suspect, because of the first line - the one that defines what marriage is in Indiana. I personally don't think the legislature has any business issuing such a definition. But if the legislature doesn't then the courts surely don't - and that's where the temptation to support the bill comes in.

IDS illustrates the problem nicely in their closing line:

The proposed state amendment might not "require" the recognition of domestic-partner benefits for same-sex couples, but we say there is no choice. They should be mandatory.

See, this is precisely the attitude that has a lot of us worried. And this is precisely the attitude that makes me opposed, on the whole, to the gay rights movement. It's one thing to argue for equal rights and tolerance. But it's completely absurd to turn around and, in the name of tolerance, propose to legislate just what kinds of lifestyles free citizens have to accept. Making gay marriage benefits "mandatory" is no one's idea of freedom. The more you talk like this, the more justified that amendment starts to seem to me.


At 7:30 AM, Blogger Jon said...

It is interesting that all this whining goes into it. But then again, it's absurd that they're legislating it at all. It would be nice if someone would just write THAT in the IDS.

Anyway, what I find interesting is that, although same-sex partners can share benefits without being married, unmarried straight couples cannot. Of course, we CAN legally get married in Indiana, but should an unmarried individual receive less coverage than a married one based on a status traditionally steeped in religion?

I don't have any kind of documentation of this, but my mom mentioned a couple of weeks ago on the phone that she thought a couple of businesses in Greensboro had actually created two-person policies specifying than an employee could share their policy with any one person (such as their wife, if married, or with a friend or family member). Even if this (proposed) legislation did take the prematurely anticipated jump from "require" to "allow", that kind of benefits policy eliminates any concern about who the policy would (or could) be shared with.

At 3:54 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

I don't know about Greensboro, but your mom would definitely be right if she were talking about New York City. In fact, in New York City, thanks to one of Giuliani's policies, hetero- non-married couples can also get their live-ins recognized legally as "domestic partners."

I think this is probably the best reason for people like me to support civil unions and oppose actual "marriage" for gays - because hopefully it would lead to "civil unions" for straight couples too, thus undermining government's role in marriage - and it seriously needs to be undermined.


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