Gays Right to a Civil Union
A Civil Union is a term used to express a civil status, in terms of relationships, very akin to marriage. The civil union was created essentially for allowing homosexual couples gain the benefits enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.
But civil union can also be used by heterosexual couples who do not want to enter into the legal institution of marriage and would prefer to be in a civil union.
Civil union grants near-marriage rights to the partners but differs in terms of rights and duties depending upon the state laws.
Civil Union in the United States
Civil Union are currently allowed in three areas; Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont. Civil unions were allowed in Vermont in 2000 as gay marriage was not an option, but homosexual couples had to be provided with legal protection in their relationships.
However, the protection offered by the Vermont civil union does not extend beyond Vermont. No federal protection is offered by the civil union and civil union does not exist on a federal level, rather, on a state by state level. Civil unions offer a few of the rights and duties found in marriage but these vary according to state.
The Vermont civil union arose as a result of the Baker v. Vermont case. Sentiment against same sex marriage was strong and so the legislature compromised and created civil union that gave same rights and duties to gay couples that the state law took within its jurisdiction.
Opponents have given backing to the Defense of Marriage Act and given in the proposal for Federal Marriage Amendment so that gay couples do not have to obligatorily be recognized in other jurisdictions. So the Vermont civil union does not have several privileges that are available to heterosexual couples under federal jurisdiction.
California came close to providing a civil union by creating a domestic partnership law that has many of the same rights and duties as a civil union.
Voluntary recognition of civil unions originating in other jurisdictions has started. For example, New York City has created the Domestic Partnership Law that formally recognizes civil unions originating in other jurisdictions.
Internationally, the German international civil law provides the same benefits and duties to civil unions originating in Vermont that are the same as those of the German civil union.
Features of Civil Unions
In order to understand the pros and cons of civil unions, we must understand the basic rights and duties accorded by such laws. The rights and duties given by the civil union law vary from state to state, but here are a few basic features of civil unions present in most civil union- allowing states:
§ Protection against discrimination based upon marital status
§ Group insurance for state employees
§ Adoption law
§ Spouse abuse programs
§ Family leave benefits
§ Victim’s compensation rights
§ Workers’ compensation benefits
§ Marital privilege and testimonial immunity laws
§ The homestead rights of a surviving spouse and homestead property tax allowance
§ Title, tenure, descent and distribution, intestate succession, waiver of will, survivorship, or other incidents of the acquisition, ownership, or transfer of real or personal property, including eligibility to hold property as tenants by the entirety
§ Terminal care documents and durable power of attorney for health care execution and revocation
The participants in a civil union are allowed to adjust the terms and conditions of the relationship with regard to the legal side in much the same way as married couples are allowed to through a prenuptial agreement.
Civil unions do not allow for certain rights as enjoyed by heterosexual couples, “sex couples do not have the same rights as different-sex couples because the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act bars them from receiving some 1,100 federal rights” (Vestal, 2007). These rights include:
§ Social Security: One partner can not collect security of the other partner after death of the partner
§ Immigration Rights: A partner can not apply for US citizenship for the other partner who is not a US citizen
§ Federal Taxes: Gay couples can not filed jointly
The Pros and Cons of Civil Union for Gay Couples
Many Arguments have been made for and against the passing of civil union between gay couples. Arguments both for and against are made by non-gay as well as gay groups. We will examine a few of these as under.
Conflict with Religious Sectors
Allowing civil union would no doubt give rise to conflict between the law and the religious sector as nearly every religion is unanimous in its condemnation of gay union. While the First Amendment may remove any possibility of allowing religion to dictate laws, the passing of such laws would result in a clash with religious groups and lobbies of all types.
Opening the Door to Legitimacy for other ‘Incorrect’ Practices
It is feared that allowing homosexuals to enter into civil union would open the door for supporters of other forms of radical union to seek legitimacy.
For example, the legal recognition of polygamy, group marriages and other such unions is feared to become an issue if homosexual unions are given the same recognition as heterosexual unions.
Motherless (or Fatherless) Households
Concern is rising over whether or not gay, or same sex, couples’ adoption would interfere with the proper development of children in an environment that is either motherless or fatherless. While research is still undecided on the effects of rearing a child in a gay parents environment, apprehension has arisen with regards to the child turning out normally.
Furthermore, opponents are of the view that in gay marriages with adoption or introduction of a child through some other means, the interests of the child are being sidelined in favor of the interests of the concerned adults.
Unproven Social Experiment
Concern has arisen over the fact that gay union is still a relatively new form of social union and the effects of this union on children and society as a whole is still highly untested.
Although the results of gay union, as a result of its unproven nature, may go either way, this argument is most often used by the opponents of gay union as a criticism of introducing legal recognition and rights for same sex couples.
Civil Union a Step in the Wrong Direction
Many gay societies and groups are against the concept of civil unions as they feel that this is against the true cause of gay unions, that is, marriage. Many gay critics of civil unions are of the view that by adopting civil unions, states are sidestepping the bigger issue of introducing gay marriage as a legitimate union.
Many such critics are of the view that by introducing alternatives to marriage such as the civil union would entrench the view of the public with regard to gay unions and would make them even more unwilling to be accepting of gay marriage.
Furthermore, such critics are of the view that adopting civil union strictly for same-sex couples would imply that such couples are inferior to heterosexual couples and thus do not deserve the same status.
Civil Union as a Stepping Stone
A counter argument to the above mentioned con is that many gay-rights activists feel that civil unions are merely a stepping stone to more concrete forms of union such as marriage. Such parties believe that taking one step at a time is the road to progress and achievement of civil union in more states would eventually lead to the introduction of gay marriage.
If they have achieved the majority of rights and privileges as found in legal marriages, then, say such groups, the chances that the recognition of gay marriage in the legal arena would soon follow.
Legal Approval Leads to Less Discrimination
Legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples would lead to less discrimination faced by gay couples and would help in forwarding the rights of gay people in other areas as well. The rights and privileges afforded by civil unions would reduce the inequity faced by such couples in comparison to heterosexual couples.
Increase in Stable Relationships
Due to lack of binding legal agreement, many gay couples have difficulty in staying in stable and monogamous relationships. By binding relationships through legal rights and duties, it is assumed that a rise would be seen in stable relationships in same-sex couples.
The stability arising as a result of such legitimacy would cause the public to view gay unions as stable relationships rather than radical and unnatural as well as unstable and disharmonious relationships that lead to instability in society. The gay lifestyle would, as a result, not be viewed as a “fast” lifestyle but as a respectable way of living.
Vestal, C. (2007). Civil Unions Spread, But Gays Want To Wed. Stateline. Retreieved on June 28, 2007 from: http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=212354