14 November 2008

Civil Rights For All -- Even Gays

Obama is preparing for office. It's really sinking in: he's truly president-elect. I'm even tempted to look over the list of jobs for which his administration is hiring, in case I'd want to turn my back on tenure and move to Washington.

Also sinking in: four states rejected rights for gay men and lesbians in one fashion or another, as Judith Warner documents in the New York Times in her usual eloquent fashion. That's also sinking in: while the Times tells us that white folks have become more "tolerant" of African-Americans, people in several states have voted for a conviction that non-heterosexuals don't deserve equal rights in matters of civil union, adoption, and foster parenting.

(Important side note: Tolerance is different from acceptance, and acceptance is different from embrace. We should be striving for more than "tolerance" of difference; the definitions of "tolerance" include respect for difference, but also the ability to endure something bad.)

During the vice presidential debate, Biden said that neither he nor Obama "support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage." On the other hand, he made clear that he thinks that civil rights for gay and straight couples should be the same. In order to accomplish that, we need a national civil union law allowing any couple -- straight or gay -- to register in domestic partnership guaranteeing the legal benefits now allowed to married couples.

When my parents got married in Germany in 1963, they had a state marriage in some civil servant's office. Their religious marriage was a separate ceremony. They celebrate two anniversaries. When my husband and I got married in New Hampshire in 1991, we got a marriage license from the town hall, but it was completed by the rabbi on the day of the ceremony.

Civil union as defined by the government, and marriage as defined by religious organizations, need to be separated in the United States as a matter of freedom of religion as well as a matter of civil rights.