After many years of advocating that marriage should be abolished as a legal institution and left entirely to religion, I changed my mind at some point in the process of writing Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage. I heard so many gay men and lesbians talk about the importance of marriage to their personal happiness and sense of well-being that I decided (with uncharacteristic humility) that I was no longer willing to advocate denying so many people something that mattered so much to them.
I did –and do-- urge that the legal term for all state-sanctioned intimate partnerships be changed from “marriage” to “civil partnership.” I've blogged about it here. While the official term on all the state forms would be “civil partnership,” I fully expect most people to refer to themselves as married, and that doesn’t trouble me.
Well, earlier this week I delivered the Roger S. Aaron Lecture at Dartmouth College. In the audience was Beth Robinson, the attorney most responsible more than a decade of judicial and legislative efforts that brought us civil unions and now marriage for same-sex couples in Vermont. Beth considered my call to rename the legal status of couples no different from a position abolishing marriage.
I have assumed that what couples want is the blessing of the state, the ceremony that goes with that, and a stature equal to that afforded different-sex couples. As long as the name for that is "marriage," then same-sex couples should have that name also. But it never occurred to me that keeping a distinct legal status for couples, but renaming that status for all couples to reflect the modern values of partnership, would appear to anyone as indistinguishable from the abolition of marriage.
I'm curious what others think.