A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released this week finds that 46% of Minnesotans support the gay marriage ban amendment, but 74% of Minnesotans think that gays should either be able to marry or form civil unions.
The large group of Minnesotans who support gay civil unions but not gay marriage are mostly not anti-gay. In some ways, it is encouraging to know that about half of the people supporting this moronic amendment actually support extending additional rights to gay people. It’s also very bad news for Republicans that only one quarter of Minnesotans support their position.
Still, those Minnesotans who support gay civil unions but oppose gay marriage are wrong, wrong in a way that preserves inequality. The fallacy of their logic needs to be exposed, because these folks are the persuadable swing voters who will determine the outcome of Minnesota’s constitutional amendment election.
Those who support gay civil unions but oppose gay marriage are misguided in two fundamental ways.
“Marriage” v. “Civil Union” Differences. Many naively believe that civil unions bestow the same rights and respect as marriage. Wrong. The General Accounting Office (GAO) says the government provides 1,138 benefits to married couples that are not available to others. Tax benefits. Immigration rights. Medical decision-making advantages. Death benefits rights. It’s a long list of legal distinctions that impact finances and quality-of-life.
But the equality difference between marriage and civil unions goes much deeper than the 1,138 benefits.
If the government told my wife and me today that it had stripped us of our marriage status, our first concern wouldn’t be about the loss of those benefits. Our more heartfelt concern would be that we were being stripped of society’s sacred recognition of our commitment and love.
Marriage is honored and cherished in our society in a way that is absolutely unique. It is put on a pedestal. The stigma that would come if my wife and I were banned from claiming that special relationship status is what would most make us feel most unequal and stigmatized. That’s what gay couples face.
Marriages bestow more legal and social benefits than civil unions. In a nation built on the notion that all are created equal, it’s just not okay to have such inequality baked into one of our society’s most revered institutions.
Semantic Slavery. Beyond those who mistakenly believe that marriage and civil unions are legally and socially equivalent, others essentially have a language hang-up.
In their minds, heterosexuality has always been at the core of the definition of the word “marriage,” and it just feels incongruous to them to adjust the definition. The vast majority of these folks don’t seem to hate gay people, or wish inequality on them. They just can’t seem to get their head around that semantic shift.
I understand this position, because it was the position that I was taking when I was first exposed to this issue in the 1990s. Ultimately, I realized that my reasoning was silly.
After all, dictionaries are not written in stone. Every year, scores of definitions are added, deleted and adjusted, based on how society’s use of the language is changing. Languages evolve as societies evolve. Therefore, we shouldn’t be denying people something as sacred as equality based on what lexicographers say. Lexicographers take their cues from society, not vice versa. If a democratic society declares, in the name of equality, that marriage is open to everyone, then it is, and dictionaries will adjust accordingly. Dictionary definitions shouldn’t rule the day. Equality should rule the day.
Unlike the 24% of Minnesotans who oppose any kind of legal recognition for gay couples, I’m convinced that many of those who oppose gay marriage but support gay civil unions are “persuadables” when it comes to the constitutional amendment. If they aren’t written off as “homophobes” and “haters,” some of them can be convinced that separate but equal doesn’t work any better for civil unions than it did for segregated schools.
Note: This post was also featured as a “best of the best” in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.