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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Maintaining the Integrity of Civil Unions

In some Western countries where civil unions are available, they have become a popular 'lower tier commitment' alternative to marriage. France is a good example where this has occurred. And it is something that I staunchly oppose.

Firstly, civil unions are derived from marriage. It is supposed to serve a similar function, but without the religious baggage. Just as I do not accept the idea of 'open marriages' or '12 month mini marriages', I cannot accept the idea of a marriage-lite institution. Civil unions are a marriage alternative that should be equally as serious and solemn, not a marriage-lite easy way out.

The second, and perhaps even more important reason, is that civil unions serve to be a way gay couples can have equal rights where marriage equality is not yet available. This type of equality does not negate the need for marriage equality, but still is very useful. For places where marriage equality can be readily achieved, and I believe this now includes much of Europe, and US and Australia, we should push for marriage equality. However, this is completely out of the question, and will still be out of the question in 30 years' time, in most of the world. Some of those countries, however, may be ready to adopt civil unions. There is even a movement for civil unions in Japan already, for example! The cheapening of civil unions will not do this cause very well. Moreover, the cheapening of civil unions by heterosexuals in the West can only serve to reinforce the second class status of gay couples in civil unions in other parts of the world, and is something true equality believers should not do.

Civil unions have also been bad mouthed by some marriage equality advocates, and I believe this is unfortunate. From the start civil unions were about equal rights and dignity. The need for equality in the institution of marriage is a separate issue and a separate type of equality issue altogether, and the lack of marriage equality should not be a reason to bad mouth civil unions.

A good guide regarding civil unions is that they must be treated like marriages, seriously and solemnly, and in the spirit of family values. Good examples are those couples who regard marriage as too religious or 'bourgeois' and choose civil unions (or cohabitation) instead, but still uphold the value of commitment.