Of all the ways the marriage equality movement has gone wrong, none bothers me more than its position that the word "marriage" must be preserved in civil law. The California Supreme Court squarely framed the issue when it asked the parties in last year's marriage litigation whether the state could eliminate the word marriage for everyone. The state said it could. The gay rights groups and the anti-gay groups said no.
I support marriage for same-sex couples as a matter of equality. But I think replacing the term for all couples with something far less laden with negative baggage is the best result of all. (My candidate is civil partnership.) Many states, including California, no longer have divorce. They have dissolutions. The negative connotation of divorce has been replaced by a modern term, and we need to do the same for marriage.
So imagine my dismay when the supplemental brief filed by the gay rights groups read as an ode to marriage as something of “majestic status” that provides a “unique quality of intimacy and emotional connection,” “unique public validation,” and “unique ability to bind two people in a distinct relationship of love and mutual commitment that is central to personal identity.”
The brief quoted approvingly from prior cases the language that “the structure of society itself largely depends upon the institution of marriage” and that marriage is “the basic unit of society.” This overlooks the many ways in LGBT (and straight) people form families and relationships. It is the rhetoric of the right-wing marriage movement. I don't want it used in my name.
The matter of equality for gay and straight couples using a word other than "marriage" also came up in the recent oral arguments on the validity of Prop 8. Once again, no support for this from the gay rights groups. But Georgetown law prof Nan Hunter, founder of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, is with me on this one.
And for an alternative vision, there's always the 2006 "Beyond Marriage" statement.