Once, civil unions were a necessary compromise on the road to equality. Now, for most, the are a relic. Yet, the Minnesota Republican Party, caught off guard by the strength of support for gay marriage in states like Minnesota, is using civil unions to undermine the marriage equality struggle.
Introduced on Wednesday last week as an alternative to marriage equality in Minnesota, the state’s Republican Party is risking friction within its own ranks to push a civil unions bill that is as calculated as it is transparent.
“We have a choice right now. We can engage in a gay marriage debate where we’re going to have half of Minnesota fighting half of Minnesota on this issue,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, is quoted as saying of the civil unions bill. “If you look at the issue of civil unions, the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans support this.”
Does their concern over a divisive struggle make you pause? It sounds almost agreeable, doesn’t it? It’s a sham.
Remember 2012 when everyone from young party insiders to the President of the United States asked the Minnesota GOP to quit it with their slanderous and disgusting campaign to put a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality on the ballot because it was derisive. They didn’t care then and, taken as a whole, the Party doesn’t care now.
Minnesota’s Marriage Equality Fight
It’s certainly true the fight for marriage equality in Minnesota won’t be an easy one. In the state’s Senate, where the bill has already survived a procedural vote, the landscape of support is manageable.
In the state House, the odds are much tougher. Not a single Republican has pledged support for the marriage equality bill, and so Democratic legislators must tighten their bootstraps and do something Democratic legislators seem to find difficult on the marriage equality issue: have the courage to do what is right even though it might cost them re-election.
If it falls to the Democratic majority to pass the bill, only four members could vote against. A quick count says that around 17 House Democrats represent states where the public isn’t just leery, but where a majority voted in favor of the 2012 ban.
A word to those Democratic legislators like Rep. Kim Norton who signed on to the civil union bill: the excuse that a lawmaker must represent the majority view from their district and vote against marriage equality, either directly or by supporting the odious civil unions bill, is the sniveling of a career politician desperate for a shield against criticism. It also explains exactly why they should not win re-election, because it is clear evidence they lack the character and courage to do what a national identity based on fairness, equality and justice for all demands.
Fortunately, while the numbers are tight on marriage equality, there are more than enough pro-equality Democratic legislators to kill the civil unions bill. They should primarily because it is an insulting compromise, and secondly because it risks stifling progress for longer than just the life of this particular legislative session.
That’s because there’s a second smidgen of deviousness in the Republican push for civil unions that would be easy to miss, and it hinges on the idea of the civil unions being functionally the same as marriage.
Using Civil Unions to Prevent Court Intervention
A court case challenging the state’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage, and therein the status quo as maintained by the state supreme court decision in the 1971 case Baker v. Nelson where the court found it is not unconstitutional to limit marriage to opposite-sex partners, is making its way through the state’s courts after the state’s appeals court ruled last year that a decision by the lower court to dismiss plaintiffs’ challenge to that statutory ban was not properly decided.
Consider the following: a rehearing sees the lower court decide the ban infringes on plaintiffs’ rights. This is appealed and taken all the way to the state supreme court, a conservative court by most standards who would seem unlikely to deliver a broad ruling in favor of a right to marriage equality.
Were the Republican-backed civil unions bill to be in force at that time, the state’s supreme court would have further reason to dismiss the suit — or any suit like it — because while the social meaning of marriage might be denied same-sex couples, many of the state level legal benefits would already be there. In effect, the civil unions bill could stack the deck in the anti-marriage equality crowd’s favor before the case has even had time to be heard.
Civil Unions: The New Weapon in the Fight Against Gay Marriage?
What’s even more hypocritical about the Republican-backed civil unions bill is that civil unions were once greeted by the wider Republican Party with as much venom as marriage equality still provokes today, yet in several states it is now the go-to for Republicans who see the gay marriage fight spiraling out of their control.
In Utah, for instance, state Senator Orin Hatch is already floating the idea of a civil unions bill after local marriage equality groups decided now was the time to start the effort to institute marriage equality, and it looks as though this is a trend Republicans across the country may feed.
In no state where civil unions have passed — Hawaii and Rhode Island being prime examples — has the fight for equality ended. No one is saying, “Thanks for my right to be almost equal.” No, the battle goes on. Every year, ground is gained. Yet the Religious Right within the Republican Party continues to offer us, at best, patronizing concessions like a civil unions bill.
No one should be fooled, and let’s just refresh our memories as to the kind of comments that lost Republicans the 2012 constitutional amendment fight. While other Republican lawmakers were busy introducing the civil unions bill last week, Republican Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen took time out to tell us what he thinks of homosexuality and the state’s marriage equality bill:
“It’s an unhealthy, sexual addiction [...] When we talk about gay marriage, we are not talking about an immutable characteristic, like the color of your skin. There is no gay gene. The concept that there is a gay gene is an unscientific lie.”
Gruenhagen may not know much about the science of sexuality, but we can borrow his language here: the concept of being relegated to a civil union, and that it should be “enough” for same-sex couples, is an immoral lie.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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