Thursday, February 12, 2004


Here is the text of the proposed Massachusetts constitutional amendment pertaining to gay marriage. As a staunch defender of equal marriage rights, my initial reaction is to decry the amendment and its divisive nature.

But after further reflection, it seems to be a reasonable compromise. The text guarantees that civil unions "shall provide entirely the same benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities that are afforded to couples married under Massachusetts law. All laws applicable to marriage shall also apply to civil unions." So while I may personally prefer the term marriage to civil union and view it as demeaning to gays and lesbians, I am no longer convinced that we should fight over a word and what it symbolizes.

And to be a bit more practical, let us think how long people will actually use the word civil union to describe gay marriage. Civil union does not exactly roll off the tongue, so to speak. Will people say, "Ted and Bill are civil unioned?" Absolutely not, they will say, "Ted and Bill are married." It would be only a matter of time before civil union would exit the popular vernacular to be left only on legal documents.

Maybe society is not ready for the concept of gay marriage and the term marriage seems to be an especially sensitive part of folks' opposition. So why not instead call them civil unions, give them the full benefits of marriage and let the language catch up along with people's attitudes? As much as it pains me to say this, I think that holding out for the word marriage is cutting off our nose to spite our face. We have to recognize that society does not always change as rapidly as we might wish it to and to temper our expectations accordingly. If someone had said twenty years ago that gays and lesbians would be allowed to enter into civil unions with the same basket of rights as married couples, we would have thought it to be pie-in-the-sky thinking. But today, it can be a reality. We should be happy for the progress that has been made and accept this compromise.


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