So a couple of guys on the two edges of the marriage debate in the US have gotten together and hammered out a compromise on same-sex marriage and published it on today's NY Times Op-Ed page. Hurrah! We can all go home now--it's been solved.
Except that their compromise seems to neglect one really important fact--GLBT folks are being still treated as second class citizens, and I'm talking about beyond the whole "it won't actually be marriage" bit.
It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill....Before I pick this apart, let me be clear--I think that anything less than full marriage rights is unacceptable. I understand that civil unions might be the reality, and might serve as a stepping stone for a while, but I won't stop agitating until same-sex couples have all the same rights that hetero couples have.
Further sharpening the conflict is the potential interaction of same-sex marriage with antidiscrimination laws. The First Amendment may make it unlikely that a church, say, would ever be coerced by law into performing same-sex wedding rites in its sanctuary. But religious organizations are also involved in many activities outside the sanctuary. What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status? What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property?
Now, it won't come as a surprise to anyone that I think if we have a conflict between the individual human rights of LGBT citizens and the teachings of religious groups as regards those rights, I'm on the side of the LGBT folks. What it really comes down to is that I respect individual rights over the rights of groups to discriminate against individuals, and that's really how I see it. That example where a church auxiliary or charity that preaches gay-hatred and yet could be forced to recognize a same-sex union for an employee? Don't feel the slightest bit sorry for them. I'd feel the same way if it were a church that condemned cross-racial marriages and wanted to deny a spouse benefits on those grounds. Discrimination is discrimination, and if you want to do it, maybe you need to get someone to do that job on a volunteer basis instead of hiring a person. Or, you know, maybe you could stop being a bunch of hateful douchehounds.
As to the second, about losing tax-exempt status for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, I really don't see it being an issue, but if it is, then perhaps we need to reassess just what church property is being exempted from taxation. If a church owns a hall that it's willing to rent out to people outside the church, for non-church-sponsored activity, then that's not solely a church building anymore. That's commercial property, and the church ought to pay the going tax rate on it. If they want to limit it to only church-sponsored events or rent to church members, and if they want to keep LGBT folks out of their church (and continue to act like hateful douchehounds), they're welcome to do so. But for me, that's the choice.
The problem is that too many churches on the right want to discriminate but also want to get the seal of approval from the federal government, and for too long, the government has been willing to oblige. That's changing, and more quickly than the right-wing half of the above writing team wants to acknowledge.
It's no surprise to me that the less-insane right is looking for compromises on this issue, because they can see the demographic changes--they know this is a loser. It's only the real psychos who think they're going to be able to put gays in jail again soon. So what the less-insane right is trying to do is build a firewall somewhere that will allow them to hold onto the magical word "marriage" for the heteros and keep their license to discriminate in the law, figuring that if the gays get something not quite as good as marriage, lots of their straight allies will back off the issue. And the sad thing is that they're probably right, which is why I'm still pushing for full and complete marriage rights. Because any compromise that leaves LGBT couples without the same rights I have is a loss.