In the comments to some of my recent posts on the marriage amendment, a reader says that no one on the "yes" side ever answers the question of what rights gay couples should have. He or she throws out the following:
1. Health insurance for partner and/or children
2. Ability to take family medical leave if partner and/or child is sick or dying
4. Ability to take funeral leave if partner or child dies
5. Right to receive medical records of partner (careful here, HCPOA does not allow this)
6. Right to view educational rrecords of child (assuming not the bio child)
7. Default position of medical decision-making (Rick, do you carry weith you at all times a HCPOA for your wife?)
8. Right to be considered "family" in Intensive Care Unit or other emergent health situations.
Here's my answer: If it's not done by creating something like marriage, all of them. Today, two people can accomplish much of this by simple agreement. If the law were changed to allow two people to "co-adopt" a child, that wouldn't make those two people "substantially married." If an employer decides to allow you to designate a co-beneficiary for your health insurance, that doesn't marry you either.
This is not about denying people benefits. It's about creating a thing - a legal relationship or status - that is substantially like marriage. The reason I oppose that is because I think it will inevitably contribute to a changed social understanding of what marriage is about, i.e., that it is merely about facilitating a sexual relationship that is chosen and defined by the parties. Marriage is what it is in our culture because it is an accommodation of the often differing interests of men and women in heterosexual relationships. Maybe you can change the definition of marriage and retain that meaning, but I think that the odds are against it. Maybe the left is right and gender is a social construct such that most (as opposed to some) relationships between two men or two women are just like a relationship between a man and women and would therefore be served by precisely the same rules and social norms and that mothers and fathers are interchangeable as long as they are loving and responsible. But that sounds implausible to me.
Because marriage is such a vital institution, I don't want to take the risk. If there is a social need to create legal avenues for same sex couples to make certain agreements or have access to certain benefits, then we should provide the right for two people to make those agreements or share those benefits. But what we shouldn't do that by creating a status that is almost like marriage.
That's my view and I cannot say that it is the view of the big bad Alliance Defense Fund. If it's not, then we just disagree. But since Fair Wisconsin seems to think that I - and supporters of the amendment - can't possibly have a view that differs from ADF, let me at least say what I understand that organization's view to be. It is my understanding that the Alliance Defense Fund essentially agrees with me. Not only have I been told by very senior people within that organization that "we don't care about benefits," they also seem to act that way in public.
For example, as opponents of the amendment have pointed out, they did sue to prevent Salt Lake City from extending domestic partner benefits. But, I am told, also took the position that the city could simply permit employees to designate a co-beneficiary (which it ultimately did.)They have publicly supported reciprocal benefits legislation. What they oppose is extension of benefits by the creation of a status. While I think that there is more room to proceed by using the concept of a domestic partner and I may have a different legal opinion on what the second sentence prohibits (in which case, of course, I would be right), it seems that, even for ADF, it's not about benefits.
I understand that many of the people associated with the Alliance Defense Fund are conservative Christians who believe that homosexual intimacy is wrong. I am, in many respects, a conservative Christian, but I am not convicted of that belief. I do not believe that the traditional Jewish, Christian and Islamic view is "bigoted" or "hateful." I think that Roman Catholic thought on the role of complementarity in human sexuality, in particular, deserves careful attention.
But, candidly, I just do not feel called to pass judgment. While I think that the notion that same sex intimacy is "just the same" as heterosexual intimacy is far too simple, I will not call gays and lesbians sinners. That other people have a different view on this than I do may lead them to take positions on some issues that are different than the ones that I would take. Just like those on the left, we who lean to the right are not monolithic.
But believing that the law ought to permit people to enter into intimate homosexual relationships, doesn't mean that the law should treat same sex couple the same way as it treats heterosexual couples. It does not mean that the desire or need for a very small group of people for certain legal arrangements should trump the social need to define and structure marriage in a certain way. Those needs and desires can be addressed in other ways.