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Today, the Iowa Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a same gender marriage case. Watching the live stream was painful—as the Asst. Polk County Attorney, Roger Kuhle, struggled to answer legal questions with any substantive argument. Each time a Justice asked a question, Kuhle told the Justice why his/her question was flawed and droned on and on about how allowing same gender marriage would just be “wrong”…I see, it’s the old ” icky” argument again.

Kuhle based his anti-equality argument on procreation, but he had no real answer for the infertile couple rebuttal brought up by the Justices. The Justices kept trying to see if Kuhle could link the procreation argument to anything relevant to the fundamental right to marry and the constitution guarantee to equal protection…How would same gender marriage interfere “with this purpose of procreation that you talk about?” one Justice asked. Kuhle answered “the state has an interest in having stable families…ideally, this is two parents…now we can quibble about” whether same sex or opposite sex parents are better…Quibble? Seriously? It’s like watching Sarah Palin!

The next Justice asks: “If stability is the goal, then by denying same-sex couples with a child the right to marry, aren’t you actually going against that very goal that you seek to achieve?” Kuhle answered “undoubtedly, in a theoretical manner, that’s possible.” Blah, blah, bleck…

But the stability question leads to an issue that I don’t think has fully been explored, and that is what is the difference between domestic partnership/civil unions and marriage? We keep hearing that states like California have domestic partnership laws that give same gender couples (in chorus) “all the same rights as marriage.” While we same gender couples have started to explain that this is inaccurate, the frequent changes in laws related to our relationships have made it difficult to keep up with all the distinctions, much less articulate them. To be clear, domestic partnerships and civil unions DO NOT have the same benefits of marriage. Here are some examples:

I married my wife in California before the initial ban on equal rights was lifted. Thus, the state did not recognize our relationship as a marriage. Once the ban was overturned, my wife and I, on our one year wedding anniversary, went and got our official state paperwork. Soon after this, we applied for car insurance. We went through the whole process–looked at the quotes, chose a policy, started to apply–when the agent asked the nature of our relationship. We explained that we were “married.” It triggered a raised eyebrow, and then he apologized for not fully understanding, and asked us to clarify our legal status. As soon as he understood that we were legally married, our insurance rate was reduced by half. (Yes, by HALF!!!) Here are some other ways in which civil unions and domestic partnerships are inferior to marriage.

Federal Benefits – most people know that there are 1,138 federal benefits that are automatically granted to “married” couples. These benefits are denied to same gender couples. These benefits include, but are not limited to, social security, tax benefits, immigration, insurance, medical decision making, pension transfer, and hospital visitation. But since the federal government passed the so-called “defense of marriage act,” same gender couples IN EVERY STATE are barred from these relationship benefits.

Civil Unions and Domestic Partnerships – even in states like California and Vermont, where the state has required that same gender legal relationships be “equal” to marriage, this DOES NOT REQUIRE private companies to change anything. For example, the car insurance company that my wife and I applied to offered their “family” discount ONLY TO MARRIED COUPLES. Likewise, many companies offer benefits to “married” couples that they DO NOT OFFER to couples in “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.” Employers, too, can continue to discriminate against same gender couples just by using the word “married” in their benefits clauses. There IS NO REQUIREMENT that these companies extend the same rights and benefits (such as insurance or family leave) to couples in “civil unions” and “domestic partnerships” as they do to “married” couples.

What if you went to sign for a package addressed to your spouse, and the shipping company said they could not leave the package with you because you are not “married”? What about when the vet calls with test results for the puppy you and your significant adopted, but won’t tell you the results over the phone because you are not the paying client’s “spouse”? The “who are you?” question is all too familiar to same gender couples.

Then, there is the issue of traveling to a different state. Same sex couples will find that the civil union they have in Vermont does them no good when one partner gets sick from Aunt Sally’s Christmas Fruit Cake in Pennsylvania. They will not be allowed to see that partner in the hospital. Or what about when a same sex couple takes their adopted child to visit one spouse’s sickly grandmother in Arkansas, can that state now take this couple’s child away since they have banned adoption by gays and lesbians? If California upholds the ban on same sex marriage, and then nullifies the 18,000 marriage licenses that it issued to same sex couples, will those married in California but living in New York still be treated as “married” under Gov. Paterson’s proclamation? You get the picture—the patchwork of rules is complicated.

If same sex couples can hardly keep up with each new change, how can the rest of the country stay on top of what does not personally affect them? That is why LGBT couples joke about needing to carry a bevy of expensive legal documents with them at all times, along with their lawyer’s business card. But many of us can’t afford the hours worth of legal fees to get our relationships protected in even the most basic ways.

These things are really pretty bad for us. But this is only part of the problem. The other part is the fact that all of this arguing is really about whether or not same gender people are worthy of human dignity and respect. This is a cruel thing to watch. Many of us have lost friends, churches, even family members over this senseless ignorance. Those who supported Prop 8 and California keep screaming about how the court has to let the “people’s” vote stand. They say “the people have spoken” and “get over it,” but the fact is that putting a central function of my life and relationship to a popular vote is not just undemocratic, it’s offensive. I would no sooner vote on how others choose to worship, then you should be voting on who I choose to marry.

There is no rational argument justifying the claim that same gender couples getting married affects the “marriages” of heteros. On the contrary, banning gay couples from getting “married” has very real effects on our physical, mental, and financial security, as well as that of our families. If you want to “defend marriage,” quit defending it from people who want to get married.


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