Friday, January 05, 2007

A Free Society Can Accommodate a Homosexual Minority

I think everyone should have someone to share a life with – or at least the civil burdens and benefits thereof. What I would really like is a "Ruth and Naomi Law." Each person could designate one other person for all those civil purposes that you need to share with others – to make medical decisions, to visit you in the hospital, to inherit your stuff. For married people that designated Other would be your spouse. Unmarried people, though, could designate one person, too. As far as the law was concerned, this need not be a marriage-like relationship; the state would be quite uninterested in whether sex was involved. Such a law would also allow same-sex couples to share most of the civil burdens and benefits that married people share, though the status would be broader than either marriage or domestic partner unions.

It is more likely, though, that our governments would adopt civil unions, a much narrower "marriage-lite" status. This would accomplish nearly all of what proponents of gay marriage want.

I think a free society should offer civil unions to homosexual citizens who want them. Following the experience of the Scandinavian countries with civil unions, I don't think there would be a big rush to them once the first excitement died down. Denmark, which has the longest experience with civil unions, has seen only about a tenth of one percent of their population take advantage of the opportunity. Some people want gay marriage or the nearest approximation, but the numbers are not large – or stable. Even some of the most celebrated same-sex unions in this country, such as the test-case couples who won the right to marry in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, have already split up.

Moreover, in countries with civil unions, more heterosexual couples use them than homosexual. Why they don't just go ahead and get married is somewhat mysterious. Still, I think they can also be accommodated in a free society.

Robby George has mounted a powerful natural law argument that the law should only recognize marriage of a man and a woman because "the law is a teacher." The law, he argues, should not only reflect social conditions, it should shape them. I can almost go with him here, but I think the line that he draws between legal marriage of a sterile heterosexual couple and an illegal union of two homosexuals is just too fine, or two dependent on extra-constitutional metaphysics, to really fly in America.

Some think that civil unions will undermine marriage. I think this is true. I do not think, though, that they would undermine marriage very much – not nearly as much, for example, as no-fault divorce laws have. Even so, I agree that there is some injustice in married people enjoying some benefits that homosexuals cannot enjoy. Righting this injustice by offering the civil union status is worth some erosion of marriage – especially since, in practice, not very many homosexual couples are likely to actually make use of it.

The Presbyterian Church, and other mainline churches, have long supported civil rights for homosexuals, including civil unions. There is no contradiction in saying, as nearly all such churches do, that homosexual practice is a sin and cannot be approved in the church, yet at the same time supporting homosexual civil rights. The church has one constitution, and civil society has another, more limited constitution. The church follows its own law in church matters, such as whom it will ordain and whom it will join together in marriage. The church also witnesses to society, and supports a broad accommodation of all kinds of freedoms for citizens under the civil laws.

Civil unions of same-sex couples could form a good-enough institution in society and, with more caveats, in the church. And good enough is good enough.

17 comments:

Ampersand said...

This post explains why there should be a civil union law (or a "ruth and naomi" law). But it fails to provide any case against opening marriage to same-sex couples (apart from a cite to Robert George, who you disagree with).

For your argument to be complete, I think you need to update this post, or provide one more in the series, outlining why it is you oppose civil same-sex marriage. As it is, I'm unclear why you don't just favor civil equality, rather than providing a special "civil union" law to accommodate same-sex couples.

(You might also consider updating your introductory post, " A Centrist Christian Approach to the Homosexual Issue," to include links to each of the followup posts. That way, folks wishing to link to the series can do so with just one link.)

Alan said...

I agree with ampersand, if civil unions will erode marriage as you speculate, then why not just have marriage? LGBT people can't possibly do any worse at marriage than straight people have done.

By the way, though you cite the fact that a few high profile LGBT couples have split up, the dissolution rate for LGBT couples in Vermont (where they have civil unions, not marriage) is only 2%. (Another perhaps telling example of how you pick and choose which evidence supports your assumptions?) Compare that to the abysmal track record of heterosexual marriages in this country (50% divorce rate) and I think we see something very interesting. Since civil unions are basically marriage in everything but name (so to placate squeamish straight people) I think the comparison is a valid one. It will be interesting to see how this trend continues as more states allow marriage or civil unions.

Mark said...

First, a piece of data.

In NJ, the new civil union law (which hasn't even taken effect yet) is "marriage-heavy". A civil union is between two people of the same sex (only - no hetero couples) and includes ALL of the rights and responsibilities within the control of the state of NJ that married couples have. They even included sanguinity law (in NJ, first cousins are OK but not any closer). They pretty much did a search of "marriage" and "spouse" and such in the existing law and modified each clause to include civil unions. So it's full marriage except for the name.

Second, I don't think that you can conclude from statistics in Europe that gay couples will not choose marriage. The fact is that gay couples have had to find alternate means to build as much of the rights of marriage that they could under existing law. Those couples are not necessarily going to jump to rebuild their financial lives under the new rules.

I think you need a generation, or at least 10 years before you can see whether or not gay couples will choose a civil union.

I also don't see (and you don't really go into it) how civil unions will harm marriage. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

Mary Jo Tewes said...

Would your ideal Ruth and Naomi law include health benefits? That seems to be one of the main things people are fighting for in this debate anyway. I can imagine how viciously health companies would fight any such law, if it were included.

I think I can imagine from our Family Life readings how you might answer some of the questions other commenters have about how homosexual marriages and/or civil unions errode marriage, but I do agree with them that you should probably elaborate on those answers in this series.

I'm also interested in what you think of the NJ civil union law Mark talks about here. Since no heterosexual couples are allowed to use the law to achieve a "marriage-lite" status, it would seem that a law like this one would minimize any 'marriage erosion' effects a civil union law might have.

Chairm said...

Marriage is both-sexed.

Society, through the state authority (but not exclusively through state authority), recognizes the social institution which at its core combines 1) sex integration and 2) responsible procreation.

This is extrinsic to the one-sexed arrangement which is sex-segregative and which, should it include children, depends on parental relinquishment (or loss).

Whereas almost everyone does marry and almost all marriages create children, only about 11% of the adult homosexual population lives in same-sex households and only 3% live in such households with children. (Fewer yet convert such an arrangement into SSM or Civil Union, where avaialbe.)

And most of those children, by far, are not attained by adoption and third party procreation.

So this SSM template that is trumpted by SSMers remains a practice on the margins within the adult homosexual population and does not possess the core of marriage nor the esteem for a preferential status even within the segment of the population for which SSM is presented as the litmus test of homosexual acceptance in society.

The onus on on the reformers to answer "why?" and not on the rest of society to answer "why not".

What is the core of SSM and why should that be accorded a status on par with marital status? Why should marriage be treated as if it was a one-sexed arrangement?

On the flipside, to treat SSM as if it was marriage would mean to flatten the preference for the core of marriage and to replace state recognition of the unique social institution with some alternative that is based on the limitations of the one-sexed arrangement. This would not extend marriage. It would replace marriage recognition with something else, more ambiguous, less vital to society.

There is no good reason on offer to make that switch.

Civil union Vermont-style or New Jersey style is enactment of SSM, locally, as if it was marriage. So it is not a true centralist position if it is directly attached to marital status.

The call for "civil equality" is based the false equivalence claim -- that sex-integration and sex-segregation are of equal import to society in domestic arrangements; and that responsible procreation is on par with either extramarital procreation (i.e. third party procreation) or adoption based on parental relinquishment (or loss). False equivalence of relationship types then is offered as a claim for equal status and equal treatment of relationship types.

Individual equality exists already today. Marriage is not unequal today. The call for "marriage equality" is nonsensical. On the other hand, to choose the one-sexed alternative (homosexualized or not) is to the choose a nonmarital arrangement and that choice is a liberty exercised, not a right denied. Equality exists on that point, as well.

Gruntled has the right idea -- some form of designated beneficiaries is the correct response to the argumentation of SSMers. Such already exists across the country, however, it could be made more accessible and affordable in the form of Reciprocal Beneficiaries (RB) such as in Hawaii.

This can be enacted through statute without creating a new relaitonship status; it would be explicitly nonmarital (no marriageable combos could qualify) and far more inclusive than SSM ever would be -- even for homosexual pairs. Also, since it would be based on affidavit, it would meet with the common SSM refrain that marriag eis first and foremost a contractual union of consenting adults who provide mutal care for one another. And, as a statute based innovation, making designated beneficiaries more accessible would facilitate making the provisions more portable from state to state and beyond.

Enactment of SSM as marriage is a solution looking for a problem. And I think the SSM campaign in this country has a big problem in not providing the justification for a preferential status for the one-sexed -- presumptively homosexualized -- relaitonship type.

RightDemocrat said...

I agree with you that no-fault divorce laws have done more to undermine the traditional family than acceptance of homosexual relationships. Gay marriage would be harmful in my view, but some form of domestic partnerships especially if not specifying any form of sexual relationship seems to be the right balance.

Alan said...

"t would replace marriage recognition with something else, more ambiguous, less vital to society."

No replacement is needed, meant, nor implied. Affording the same rights and responsibilities to gay people as straight people does not limit the rights or responsibilities of straight people. I think you fundamentally misunderstand the argument.

José Solano said...


". . . Some form of domestic partnerships especially if not specifying any form of sexual relationship seems to be the right balance." (RightDemocrat)

This is a good compromise that the New Jersey legislature had an opportunity to enact while still complying with the activist NJ Supreme Court "legislative," law producing order.

But I have a better idea. We need to stop playing with euphemisms to conceal support for homosexual affairs. Forget domestic partnerships, civil unions, whatever. Just call it what it is, THE HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIP!

The apparent goal of most homosexuals and their supporters is to gain social acceptance of their relationship by usurping the term marriage with its time honored prestige in all times and cultures. But the term marriage cannot possibly describe the homosexual relationship as Chairm and many others have pointed out.

Homosexuals may still harbor some deep-seated shame over their behaviors when they would prefer to conceal what their relationship truly is, namely, a homosexual relationship. In simply calling it what it is they can still try to dignify it by using any number of adjectives to describe their relationship.

They can talk about the "committed" homosexual relationship, the "loving" homosexual relationship, the "wonderful" homosexual relationship, the "enduring" homosexual relationship or whatever. And they can then lobby and parade and protest to obtain government benefits for that particular relationship. If the people think there is justification for granting them particular benefits, as they have justifiably done with the consideration of handicapped people, then they can provide homosexual relationship benefits and perhaps provide them a state certificate saying something like,

"We Hereby Affirm that Mr. X and Mr. Y are Engaged in a HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIP and are Duly Entitled to All the Rights and Privileges Provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
Signed: Senate President Robert Travaglini

That's all. Simple, straightforward and truthful. Just take it to the people and Let the People Vote on it. This is an honest centrist and even liberal Democrat position.

Chairm said...

No replacement is needed, meant, nor implied. Affording the same rights and responsibilities to gay people as straight people does not limit the rights or responsibilities of straight people.

The same rights and responsibilities exist for both within marriage, now.

But you meant to compare relationship types, not people.

What is the core of your ideal for the homosexual relationship type?

I think your ideal is a replacement for it cannot be based on the core of marriage which is 1) the integration of the sexes and 2) responsible procreation, combined.

Marriage is not expanded when its core is treated as optional the core of an alternative nonmarital relationship type is treated as essential just because the core of the conjugal relationship is extrinsic to the alternative type of relationship.

I think the bottomline is that you seek coexistence of the two relationship types and, more, you would have the homosexual relationship type piggback on the esteem for and the preference for marriage.

That is to say, you do not seek coexistence in terms of the tolerance that Gruntled has suggested, and which most churches already afford. Instead you seek equivalency of relationship types and to get there you would replace recognition of the core of marriage with something else. In fact, that would elevate the alternative over the marriage idea.

It is a substitution. It would treat all marriages (the conjugal relationships of husbands and wives) as if they were not marriages but were homosexual relationships. This equivalency is a substitute for recognizing marriage itself.

Alan said...

"the core of marriage which is 1) the integration of the sexes and 2) responsible procreation, combined."

Please provide Biblical evidence that the core of marriage is one man/one woman, having babies.

You definition is an interesting one, but it is just that, your definition. If your argument is that I should not get to define marriage for you, you can hardly make the same argument to me. :)

Alan said...

"Homosexuals may still harbor some deep-seated shame over their behaviors when they would prefer to conceal what their relationship truly is, namely, a homosexual relationship. "

Change the word relationship to marriage, and you've got a deal Jose. :)

Wow...it's really too bad this interesting and polite discussion is starting to attract another element.

Chairm said...

Please provide Biblical evidence that the core of marriage is one man/one woman, having babies.

Do you wish to engage in prooftexting of Scripture, here? I thought that would be a different discussion.

But to address your last comment, I would respectfully ask that you to begin with a far more simple exercise than interpreting Scripture.

Re-examine my own comment a bit more carefully.

In your question you have misstated the very part of my comment that you just quoted.

Alan said...

"Do you wish to engage in prooftexting of Scripture, here? I thought that would be a different discussion."

We're having the same discussion in two different threads, see my answer in the other thread

José Solano said...

"Change the word relationship to marriage, and you've got a deal Jose." (Alan)

But that's not a deal, it's a complete capitulation to calling the homosexual relationship what it cannot possibly be. Marriage must have complimentarity. It's really the sine qua non 0f marriage. It may have other components but it cannot lack complimentarity. In terms of marriage the homosexual relationship is as disfunctional as having two padlocks or two keys by themselves. The padlock needs the key to be functional. That's complimentarity.

I offered you the option to provide as many adjectives as you'd like to describe it, but what you're asking for is that we call an elephant a giraffe. It would be a complete hoax.

Why do you refuse to simply call it what it is? You must agree with everyone else that it is indeed a homosexual relationship. And then everyone can be in agreement. If you accept your homosexuality as God given, innate and immutable, you should not be disturbed to call it what it is and then seek societal benefits for the relationship. You can even have your minister bless the relationship if he or she wishes.

Peace.

Chairm said...

We're having the same discussion in two different threads, see my answer in the other thread

Yes, it appears so. My apologies. It is a good discussion across Gruntled's main points. I'll take more care in crossing from thread to thread.

I'll reiterate, however, that you did misread the part of my comment that you quoted in this thread.

If you would acknowldege and drop your mischaracterization of what I said here, that's fine.

José Solano said...

"The church has one constitution, and civil society has another, more limited constitution." (Gruntled)

This is true. It is also true that the church members have a Constitutional right to vote. They have a right to choose between the moral relativism of the world and the biblical moral absolutes. They have a right to participate in the decisions that form the laws by which our society should abide. We recognize this to be in the best interest of Christian and non-Christian alike.

When Christians had no right to vote they accepted death rather than compromise with sin. Some of course because of their weakness and fear of torture capitulated, but in their hearts they repented of their weaknesses and the Church welcomed them in the fold. Today we have no excuse not to speak our minds and vote our Christian conscience. Is the ethics of the world better for humanity than the ethics of Christ? On all sides we are lured to make compromise with sin. Just say "No." Say "no" to abortion. Say "no" to homosexual practices. Say "no" to no-fault divorce. Say "no" to embryonic manipulations. Say "YES" to marriage and family. Say "YES" to the Sermon on the Mount.

Christianity has a total monopoly on everything good. If it's good we espouse it. If it's sinful we reject it. It's so simple a child can understand it. And yet it has such profundity as to cause the greatest sages to ponder. Praise God.

José Solano said...

Another point.

"Civil unions of same-sex couples could form a good-enough institution in society and, with more caveats, in the church." (Gruntled)

It is not good-enough! It is not good for the homosexuals and it is not good for society. It provides a terrible example for children who will imagine that such behaviors are Ok. It will further erode the entire moral fabric of our society which is already in a terrible state. Its moral laxity will further seep into the church. It will funnel valuable tax dollars that can go to healing the sick and helping the poor to benefit those engaging in moral turpitude. How can society deny polygamy, which is a far better form of human relationship than homosexuality, if we privilege and provide benefits for those engaging in sodomy?