Editor's Column: Decision On Gay Unions Is Commendable
28 April 2000 By Stentor Danielson
On Wednesday, the Vermont Senate approved legislation that would allow homosexual couples to enter into " civil unions," an institution nearly identical in all but its name to marriage. This measure is a response to a unanimous December ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court that homosexual couples were being unconstitutionally denied the privileges available to heterosexuals through marriage. A similar bill has passed the Vermont House of Representatives and Governor Howard Dean is expected to sign the final draft.
The Vermont initiative is the first affirmation of marriage or marriage-like rights for homosexual couples by an state, and follows on the heels of measures defining marriage as exclusively heterosexual in California and Hawaii. Vermont should be proud to be leading the country in the right direction.
The Supreme Court ruling was based on a clause in the Vermont constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all the state's citizens. The court found that prohibiting some people from enjoying the more than 300 benefits that come from marriage simply due to the sex of their chosen partners violated this clause. The civil unions created under the new legislation will confer all of these rights on committed homosexual couples. The procedures for establishing and dissolving a civil union also parallel those for marriage and divorce.
The major difference between marriage and civil union is the terminology, which was altered as a concession to advocates of the traditional family. The change means that civil unions in Vermont will have no standing outside the state (whereas marriages are transferable).
Opponents of civil unions for homosexuals argue that allowing marriage or a similar institution for same-sex couples undermines the traditional family structure. While this may be true on some level, it is not the threat to society that "family advocates" claim it is.
It is true that homosexual marriage falls outside the bounds of the traditional definition of family -- one man, one woman and their children. But that does not mean that same-sex couples are not a viable family structure in modern America.
Our social and economic well-being is no longer based on kinship connections. A defense of the traditional notion of family is, in effect, a defense of the reproduction-based kinship structure that heterosexual monogamy fosters. Extra-familial friendly and business contacts have become as important to our well-being as having many children and seeing them married into good families.
The purpose of marriage today is twofold: to solemnize a committed relationship between two people and to provide a stable environment to raise any children the couple may choose to have.
Opponents of same-sex marriage often try to insinuate that a homosexual relationship can not be as stable and committed as a heterosexual one, and therefore that it is not deserving of the sanctity of marriage or a similar union. While they use more mature terminology, the argument boils down to the assumption that homosexuals are perverts.
Raising a child in a homosexual household is a frightening thought for defenders of the traditional family. They warn that, once the door is opened to homosexual marriage or civil union, same-sex couples will demand adoption rights. They believe that the consequences for a child's development could be disastrous.
I see no reason why a homosexual couple would be any less likely to be caring and stable than a heterosexual couple. Examples of heterosexual couples gone bad are not hard to come by. I would venture to say that same-sex couples might, on average, be better parents because adopting a child -- the only option available to homosexuals -- is a process requiring forethought and a great deal of effort, while children can be conceived by accident.
Opponents of same-sex marriage base their case on the seeming decline of the family, the building block of society. But by defining " family" in such rigid and outdated terms, they are dooming it to failure in a changing society. The government of Vermont should be proud to lead the way in making the benefits of marriage available to all of the state's people.
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