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Thread: Marriage vs. Civil Unions

  1. #1
    Elite Member celeb_2006's Avatar
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    Default Marriage vs. Civil Unions

    (With the recent Proposition 8 issue still raging, I thought it would be nice to give a primer on the core issues at stake to inform others)

    Civil Unions vs. Gay Marriage

    The Difference between Gay Marriage and Civil Unions

    by Kathy Belge
    You hear the politicians saying it all the time. “I support Civil Unions, but not gay marriage.” What exactly does this mean? Some even say they support equal rights for gays and lesbians, but not gay marriage. Is this possible? And why do gays and lesbians want marriage so badly when they can have civil unions?

    First of all, What is Marriage?

    When people marry, they tend to do so for reasons of love and commitment. But marriage is also a legal status, which comes with rights and responsibilities. Marriage establishes a legal kinship between you and your spouse. It is a relationship that is recognized across cultures, countries and religions.

    What is a Civil Union?

    Civil Unions exist in only a handful of places: Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut. California and Oregon have domestic partnership laws that offer many of the same rights as civil unions. Vermont civil unions were created in 2000 to provide legal protections to gays and lesbians in relationships in that state because gay marriage is not an option. The protections do not extend beyond the border of Vermont and no federal protections are included with a Civil Union. Civil Unions offer some of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, but only on a state level.

    What about Domestic partnership? Some states and municipalities have domestic partnership registries, but no domestic partnership law is the same. Some, like the recently passed California domestic partnership law comes with many rights and responsibilities. Others, like the one in Washingtonoffer very few benefits to the couple.
    What are some of the differences between Civil Unions and Gay Marriage?

    Recognition in other states: Even though each state has its own laws around marriage, if someone is married in one state and moves to another, their marriage is legally recognized. For example, Oregon marriage law applies to people 17 and over. In Washington state, the couple must be 18 to wed. However, Washington will recognize the marriage of two 17 year olds from Oregon who move there. This is not the case with Civil Unions. If someone has a Civil Union in Vermont, that union is not recognized in any other state. As a matter of fact, two states, Connecticut and Georgia, have ruled that they do not have to recognize civil unions performed in Vermont, because their states have no such legal category. As gay marriages become legal in other states, this status may change.

    Dissolving a Civil Union v. Divorce: Vermont has no residency requirement for Civil Unions. That means two people from any other state or country can come there and have a civil union ceremony. If the couple breaks up and wishes to dissolve the union, one of them must be a resident of Vermont for one year before the Civil Union can be dissolved in family court. Married couples can divorce in any state they reside, no matter where they were married.

    Immigration: A United States citizen who is married can sponsor his or her non-American spouse for immigration into this country. Those with Civil Unions have no such privilege.

    Taxes: Civil Unions are not recognized by the federal government, so couples would not be able to file joint-tax returns or be eligible for tax breaks or protections the government affords to married couples.

    Benefits: The General Accounting Office in 1997 released a list of 1,049 benefits and protections available to heterosexual married couples. These benefits range from federal benefits, such as survivor benefits through Social Security, sick leave to care for ailing partner, tax breaks, veterans benefits and insurance breaks. They also include things like family discounts, obtaining family insurance through your employer, visiting your spouse in the hospital and making medical decisions if your partner is unable to. Civil Unions protect some of these rights, but not all of them.

    But can’t a lawyer set all this up for gay and lesbian couples?
    No. A lawyer can set up some things like durable power of attorney, wills and medical power of attorney. There are several problems with this, however.

    1. It costs thousands of dollars in legal fees. A simple marriage license, which usually costs under $100 would cover all the same rights and benefits.

    2. Any of these can be challenged in court. As a matter of fact, more wills are challenged than not. In the case of wills, legal spouses always have more legal power than any other family member.
    3. Marriage laws are universal. If someone’s husband or wife is injured in an accident, all you need to do is show up and say you’re his or her spouse. You will not be questioned. If you show up at the hospital with your legal paperwork, the employees may not know what to do with you. If you simply say, "He's my husband," you will immediately be taken to your spouse's side.

    Defense of Marriage Law

    Even with lesbian and gay marriages being performed and recognized in some states, the Federal Defense of Marriage Law prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay and lesbian relationships. This puts gay and lesbian couples who are married in a legal limbo. How do they file their tax returns? Do they have to pay the tax on their partner’s health insurance? How do they fill out legal and other forms, single or married?

    Creating Civil Unions creates a separate and unequal status for some of America’s citizens. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court ruled that creating a separate class for gay and lesbian citizens is not permissible and that is why they have voted that only marriage equals marriage. The precedent was set with Brown v. The Board of Education regarding segregation in public education. Ironically, Massachusetts marriage law went into effect on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

    The United States Constitution guarantees equality for all. As you can see, marriage and civil unions are not the same. Creating equal access to marriage is the only fair way to ensure equality for gay and straight couples alike.

    Another good article:

    Equal Marriage NOW: Civil Marriage v. Civil Unions

    What is marriage?

    Marriage is a unique legal status conferred by and recognized by governments all over the world. It brings with it a host of reciprocal obligations, rights and protections. It is also a cultural institution. No other word has that power and no other status can provide that protection.
    Married couples have over 1,400 rights, protections and responsibilities such as:
    • Social Security benefits upon death, disability or retirement of spouse, as well as benefits for minor children.
    • Family and Medical Leave protections to care for a new child or a sick or injured family member
    • Workers' Compensation protections for the family of a worker injured on the job
    • Access to COBRA insurance benefits so the family doesn't lose health insurance when one spouse is laid off
    • ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) protections such as the ability to leave a pension, other than Social Security, to your spouse
    • Exemptions from penalties on IRA and pension rollovers
    • Exemptions from estate taxes when a spouse dies
    • Exemptions from federal income taxes on spouse's health insurance
    • The right to visit a sick or injured loved one, have a say in life and death matters during hospitalization.
    What is a civil union?

    A civil union is a legal status granted by a state. The State of Vermont created civil unions in 2000. It provides legal protection to couples at the state law level, but omits federal protections, as well as the dignity, clarity, security and power of the word "marriage".
    Civil unions are different from civil marriage and that difference has wide-ranging implications that make the two institutions unequal, such as:

    Marriages are respected state to state for all purposes but questions remain as to how civil unions will be treated in other states. The two appellate courts that have addressed the issue in Connecticut and Georgia have disregarded them based on the fact that their own states do not grant civil unions.

    Federal Benefits:
    According to a 1997 General Accounting Office report, civil marriage brings with it at least 1,049 legal protections and responsibilities from the federal government alone. Civil unions bring none of these critical legal protections.

    Taxes and Public Benefits for the Family:
    Because the federal government does not respect civil unions, a couple with a civil union will be in a kind of limbo with regard to governmental functions performed by both state and federal governments, such as taxation, pension protections, provision of insurance for families, and means-tested programs like Medicaid. Even when states try to provide legal protections, they may be foreclosed from doing so in joint federal/state programs.

    Filling Out Forms:
    Every day we fill out forms that ask us whether we are married, single, divorced or widowed. People joined in a civil union do not fit in any of those categories. People with civil unions should be able to identify themselves as a single family unit yet misrepresenting oneself on official documents can be considered fraud and can carry potential serious criminal penalties.

    Separate and Unequal—Second Class Status:
    Even if there were no substantive differences in the way the law treated marriages and civil unions, the fact that a civil union remains a separate status only for gay people represents real and powerful inequality. The United States Constitution requires legal equality for all. Including lesbian and gay couples within existing marriage laws in is the fairest and simplest thing to do.

    Ending a Civil Union:
    If you are married, you can get divorced in any state in which you are a resident. But if states continue to disregard civil unions, there is no way to end the relationship other than establishing residency in Vermont and filing for dissolution there. This has already created problems for couples who now have no way to terminate their legal agreement.

  2. #2
    A*O is offline
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    Well I was married in a civil ceremony but I'm a boring old hetero so the State says that's OK. If you sign a licence/marriage contract/marital agreement/whatever it should be a legally binding contract and subject to the usual laws. Not only divorce but the protection that a legally binding marriage confers on both partners, straight or gay. This isn't rocket surgery.
    If all the women in this place were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised - Dorothy Parker

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    Quote Originally Posted by A*O View Post
    Well I was married in a civil ceremony but I'm a boring old hetero so the State says that's OK. If you sign a licence/marriage contract/marital agreement/whatever it should be a legally binding contract and subject to the usual laws. Not only divorce but the protection that a legally binding marriage confers on both partners, straight or gay. This isn't rocket surgery.
    I agree with all of this, except for one thing....What's rocket surgery?

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Tati's Avatar
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    ^ I used to joke that my husband was a rocket surgeon! He went to school for Aerospace Engineering and worked for a company in that field, but his main project with them was building a robot to assist in brain surgery.
    If you reveal your secrets to the wind you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.

    - Kahlil Gibran

  5. #5
    Elite Member panda's Avatar
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    thank you for this information. I am trying to educate myself about this, so I can stand up and show support for our gay and lesbian friends!

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