'Civil unions' don't go far enough


POSTED: Friday, May 29, 2009

The California Supreme Court's upholding of last year's ballot measure banning same-sex marriage has sparked what appears to be a resolve to reverse the law, as early as in next year's election. Hawaii legislators considered legalizing “;civil unions”; in this year's session, but recent legal interpretations and sentiment in California indicate that civil unions are not an acceptable compromise.

In Tuesday's California ruling, Chief Justice Ronald George wrote that the state's domestic-partner law gives same-sex couples “;the same substantive core benefits”; as heterosexual spouses, including “;the constitutional right to enter into an officially recognized and protected family relationship.”;

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and other proponents of gay rights were correct to compare that rationale with the “;separate but equal”; argument that was rejected in the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court civil-rights decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he believes “;that one day either the people or the courts will recognize gay marriage”; in California.

While the launching of a federal lawsuit in California this week is unlikely to find solace in a judiciary sprinkled with bench selections from the Bush administration, the comparison already has begun to topple civil unions in states.

Five states now allow same-sex marriages—the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont, and traditionally progressive Iowa. Last October, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that gay couples who had been granted civil unions have the right to marry.

In January, the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission similarly found “;overwhelming evidence”; that civil unions had not provided the same protections as marriage. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if given the opportunity.

New Hampshire legislators have approved a version of legalized gay marriage and agreed this week to include protection of religious institutions insisted upon by Gov. John Lynch for his signature.

About 30 states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages. Hawaii is an anomaly; voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 that empowered the Legislature to define marriage, effectively ratifying a legislative measure that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Hawaii has recognized “;reciprocal beneficiaries”; since 1997, granting gay partners probate, hospital visitation and other rights that had been limited to legal spouses. The bill before this year's Legislature would have given same-sex partners “;all the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities under the law”; as spouses—clearly “;separate but equal”; rights.

Recent national polls indicate for the first time that more Americans favor legalized same-sex marriage than those opposed. Support of gay marriage is especially pronounced among those under 30 years old, indicating that the trend is toward eventual acceptance of same-sex marriage, not civil unions.