Much Ado About Nothing

Who’d have thought “compromise” is such an ugly idea?

During my interview with Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for All Families, I raised the idea of pressing for civil union legislation if same-sex marriage was something that couldn’t pass.  He dismissed the idea completely and asked me to read a study on what a disaster civil unions were in New Jersey.  I read the study to which they referred.  Jake Loesch, the Minnesota United communications director, sent me a link.

I carefully read through the commission’s report and noted their findings.  In this study, from back in 2008, there were stories of health care professionals who didn’t know what civil unions were and comparisons to segregation but what I couldn’t find was a substantive difference between their civil union law and a same-sex marriage law.  What the commission found is we are treated differently because people don’t understand our relationships.  Ignorance doesn’t seem to care what it’s called.

For example, from page one of the ‘Legal, Medical, Economic & Social Consequences of New Jersey’s Civil Union Law’, they report the following:

“So, [Naomi] asked the attending emergency room physician to tell her what was happening with me…. And he said, “who are you?” And she said, “well, I’m her partner.” And he said, “I can’t give you any information, you know, I need her consent.” And I wasn’t in any state of mind to give my consent…. And she had to explain to him what civil unions were. And he wasn’t, you know, quite sure at first. He was reluctant to give my information. He did not understand, and hadn’t heard of civil unions before.”

This is a heart-wrenching account that no one should have to face.  But, the doctor simply didn’t know what their relationship was.  He didn’t want to hand out the woman’s medical condition information to just anyone and we have laws to keep such things confidential.  Clearly the doctor didn’t know what a “civil union” meant but would he have believed her if she said “wife?”  That would seem to have caused the same amount of confusion with this health care professional.

It’s a fascinating study and if you are as nerdy as me, please take the time to read it.  The evidence and findings included show we have a society that doesn’t really understand the nature of our relationships or the tact needed in social situations.  But it didn’t find any substantive differences between civil unions and marriage except intangible ones.  Like the following from page two of the report from a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School:

“Based on research and my years of working with gay people who have experienced stigma or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, I believe that second-class citizenship, now institutionalized in some states in the form of civil unions, contributes to increased rates of anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders in marginalized populations.”

Good heavens.  Can anyone in the GLBT community honestly say they’ve never experienced any stigma or discrimination based on sexual orientation?  Anyone?  Are we really such basket cases using the term “civil unions” will lead us to endless whiskey guzzling and Prozac popping?  Preposterous.

I exaggerate because we all experience major and minor traumas and unfair treatment regardless of what legal recognition of our relationships is called.  It seems a bit dramatic to say having the same benefits and obligations called something different is “second-class citizenship.”  We politically have the same rights we always did as citizens.  Calling our relationships by a different legal term hardly keeps us in the back of a bus or prevents us from eating at whatever lunch counter we’d like.

In fact, civil unions do provide the same protections and responsibilities as same-sex marriage as the study found on page 29.  It isn’t the civil union law that makes a difference in legal situations but the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“Federal DOMA continues to obstruct access to equal financial benefits of marriage for civil union couples, and would continue to do so even if New Jersey were to enact marriage. There are over 1,000 federal rights and benefits of marriage that civil union couples cannot enjoy because of DOMA, which defines marriage for purposes of federal law as the union between one man and one woman.  As noted in the Commission’s first report, DOMA permits employers to discriminate against same-sex couples in the provision of health insurance benefits.”

Regardless of what it’s called, federal law is the culprit and not civil union legislation in New Jersey.  Of course, in Minnesota we don’t have to worry about that.  We have NO recognition of our relationships now and NONE if same-sex marriage doesn’t pass either.

I explored the New Jersey report and other reports as well.  I read the University of California, The Williams Institute model civil union and marriage legislation which can be found here;  http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Pizer-Kuehl-Model-Marriage-Report.pdf

Another critique of civil unions can be found at http://www.glad.org/uploads/docs/publications/cu-vs-marriage.pdf  The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) report reads much like the New Jersey report.  According to them, talking about “civil unions” seems to have a debilitating effect on our relationships and our rights.  I don’t buy it because I can talk about marriage and civil unions just fine without it scarring me too much.

Getting our relationships recognized in Minnesota may mean a little compromise on what it’s called.  Our relationships are real, exist here and now, and deserve to be recognized by the state this year.  As I argued in “What’s in a Name” the device used doesn’t matter.  As I found in this report, there is no substantive difference between these laws.  It is time to think clearly about what can pass.  I hope for same-sex marriage but I prepare in case this doesn’t happen.  That isn’t settling.  That is simply being responsible.

_______

See also:
“The DFL’s Big Gay Farce” from Issue 457, November 29, 2012
“Three of Four Top Elected Minnesota Politicians Comment on the Marriage Debate” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“‘Earnest Money:’ Repeal DOMA Now” from Issue 458, December 13, 2012
“Why We Can’t Wait” an Interview with Sen. John Marty from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
Waiting for Superman” from Issue 460, January 10, 2013
“Don’t Skip Dessert” an Interview with Rep. Ryan Winkler from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
“What’s In A Name?” A Case for Civil Unions from Issue 461, January 24, 2013
Outreach: Conversation with Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R)” from Issue 462, February 7, 2013
Carrie Chapman Catt’s Winning Plan” from Issue 462, February 7, 2013
“Our Family Albums” from Issue 463, February 21, 2013
Talking Strategy with Richard Carlbom [of Minnesotans United for All Families]” from Issue 463, February 21, 2013
Vanguard” from Issue 464, March 7, 2013
Beating the Clock” from Issue 466, April 4, 2013
Rocky Mountain High” from Issue 467, April 18, 2013
The Elephant in the Room“ from Issue 467, April 18, 2013

2 Responses to Much Ado About Nothing

  1. Kurt Anderson says:

    It’s refreshing to see someone who is actually considering the vote count on the marriage bill. There are 30 Republicans from districts that voted “No” on the amendment last fall, and 28 Democrats from districts that voted “Yes.” Yes voters were unequivocally against same sex marriage, whereas No voters may have had been motivated by something other than ardent support for it. So bill supporters are either going to have to find substantial numbers of Republican votes (is Senjem coming around?); or be prepared either to settle for what’s possible this time, or to wait until next time. Caveat: odds are 2014 will not be a great election year for liberals.

    I can send Mr. Stevens my chart if he e-mails me.

  2. Paul Francis Fleege says:

    Commentary Commentary Commentary

    Lavender Magazine needs a Miss Sweetie Poo (the one from the “ig Nobel Prize”) who stands up and loudly proclaims, “Please stop. I’m bored! Please stop. I’m bored!” When constant commentator Brett Stevens writes about same-sex marriage, then civil unions (HF1687), then same-sex relationship recognition depending on whom he is talking to (Republican or Democrat), one has to wonder which way this fish will flip flop when his next commentary comes out. Honestly, it is like watching a fish trying to ride a bicycle.

    Let me state for the record that I was pleasantly surprised that during the amendment battle, Lavender Magazine was not only consistent on telling people to vote NO, but always had one or more articles about the vote.

    But then Lavender brought on Brett Stevens. He’s a poster child for a thousand clichés, who is a right-wing Republican from MN Senate District 62 (South Minneapolis). He seemed to be a hyperventilating Johnny-come-lately to the effort to gain any kind of state government relationship recognition. I am trying to figure out his real motivation for these commentaries. Was it to win state recognition of his (same-sex attracted) relationship OR is it really about having an ax to grind against the MN Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party!? Or even worst, is he being paid under the table by NOM (National Organization for [straight] Marriage [only]). I and a lot of people are mad as hell with Brett Stevens acting as if he is offering some unique or insightful wisdom about how to pass legislation compared to people who have been working for decades on this issue! Lavender has failed this community by picking this self-centered village idiot to write about politics.

    Brett loudly proclaims there is no difference between marriage and civil unions(HF 1687), which on a purely legal level he is correct. After all (since he loves to use the African American experience as examples) one is still able to drink from the same source of water and ride on the same bus. BUT, despite his narcissism, a law must be able to function in the REAL WORLD. He then, for some reason, (flip flops) includes a quote {Rocky Mountain High} from Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman saying, “Civil unions are NOT marriage. They are something that are separate and distinct and LESSER AND UNEQUAL, and that really is not good enough (my emphasis).” And the following 2 commission reports from 2008 concur with Senator Steadman.

    Vermont’s state report:

    http://www.leg.state.vt.us/baker/cureview.cfm

    New Jersey’s state report (which was included above in his article):

    http://www.gardenstateequality.org/civilunionsdontwork/Final%20report%20of%20the%20CURC.pdf

    I strongly suggest he read or re-read them. The Vermont report included more examples of people who testified.

    The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection said (after 8 years of having civil unions) “…that true equality cannot be achieved when there are two separate legal structures for conferring state benefits to couples based upon sexual orientation”. “… (it) sends the message that same-sex couples are DIFFERENT FROM or INFERIOR to opposite-sex couples and UNWORTHY of inclusion in the marriage laws (my emphasis).” “Witnesses stressed that words and how words are used in our language are very important, symbolic and powerful. Marriage is the “gold standard” for many couples and a term which everyone understands.”

    Yet once again Brett Stevens loves to choose what he includes in his commentaries and what he chooses not to include. The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (1year after the law was enacted) stated, “…this Commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act INVITES and ENCOURAGES (my emphasis) unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children. In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognize the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples.” In a press release, it said the Act “Compounded harm to women, African-Americans and Latino-Americans… The state Public Advocate told the Commission about ‘the particular difficulty for lower-income same-sex couples who encounter discrimination because they have fewer resources with which to seek legal counsel and redress’ …”. Brett, one should not have to have an entourage of lawyers with them 24-7 to argue their case to those they encounter on a daily basis. Much less, need to have the funds available to pay for those lawyers while their straight counter parts do not have to. Those who forget (or in this case ignore) the past are condemned to repeat it! Brett, Forest Gump says it best, “stupid is as stupid does”.

    This leads me to my next point.

    What has Brett Stevens done for this community lately OR ever?? Based on what he has written one could honestly suspect he is a gay Rip Van Winkle who woke up sometime after November 7, 2012. I consider myself a liberal Democrat party hack (in a good way—a grunt worker). Who has been working on relationship recognition since the Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thompson legal battle (I let you look that up on the web). For me, actions speak a hell of a lot louder than words.

    Brett complained that MN United was a “rougue gallery of leftist, progressives and socialist’s (that) included the DFL”, as if that was a bad thing. Does he believe that members of the Log Cabin Republicans (also part of MN United) are RINOs (Republicans In Name Only)? Politics belong to those who show up! Any person, group or entity was able to become part of the coalition which by definition is a temporary merging of partners to achieve a joint action. It just so happens that “liberal” people and groups are quicker at moving into coalitions. This by definition does not mean they all agree with each other on every single position the other takes. So Brett, you could have brought in rightwing conservative groups like the MN Elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the MN Roman Catholic Hierarchy, the MN Family Council or even GOProud. But you didn’t (and this is a recurring phenomenon for Brett Stevens—he doesn’t want to have to do WORK to move the boulder up the mountain).

    Fact: It is a lie when you stated that MN United elected DFLer’s to the legislature {Earnest Money}. Just because DFL candidates had no problem showing up to MN United fundraisers or rallies and/or taking a public position against the evil amendment did not stop candidates like Senator Julianne Ortman (who knows how to play the Log Cabin Republicans like a violin with no return) or even Representative Andrea Kieffer, from doing the same!

    I am willing to bet $ 200.00 (to be paid to MN United if I am proven wrong) that Brett Stevens cannot come up with proof that he donated a penny to MN United to defeat the amendment or can tell us which office shows him signed in for doing a phone bank or door knock. Brett, the LGBT people and thousands of our allies want to know why you claim you want the opportunity to get married, but cannot show how you personally did anything (WORK or funding) to prevent it from becoming constitutionally prohibited in the first place! Talk is cheap!!

    I find it fascinating that someone who thinks he can write anything about politics expects/demands a guaranteed result for a vote on a piece of controversial legislation when there are 201 people from all over the state casting a vote? The only things in life that are certain are death and taxes. Everything else you have to WORK at, in order to achieve it (isn’t that is a Republican motto?). There are no free rides in life. I would challenge Brett Stevens to show just one example in American history where women or any minority group were extended/given rights from the majority without having to WORK for it? Nobody can guarantee you that the Freedom to Marry bill will pass. Because just like in Tennessee, back in August 18, 1920, an opponent of women’s suffrage, Harry Burn, at the last minute changed his vote in favor of the US constitutional amendment after receiving a letter from his mother insisting that he vote yes. This provided enough votes to pass the 19th amendment to the US Constitution. There are no guarantees in politics, just hopes and a lot of work!

    Brent Stevens also makes a big assumption that somehow it would be easier to pass civil union(HF1687) legislation versus marriage equality. Yet if he had been involved over the years with this issue and the amendment fight, he would have known that the two major players in the fight do NOT support civil union recognition either. The MN Family Council views “same-sex civil unions …as a bait-and-switch scheme designed to obtain same-sex marriage via an incremental approach” and the Roman Catholic Hierarchy says “In those situations where homosexual unions have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.” So, as a result, the opposition will not back down and support civil unions (HF1687) —-notice that neither group has endorsed this piece of legislation. I am sure it was like pulling teeth when both parties were told that if they hoped to have the constitutional amendment passed in 2012, they would have to cut the prohibition on civil unions from the amendment (OUCH!!). So why fight for civil unions when getting the freedom to marry would encounter the same resistance from the opposition anyway?

    Had the constitutional amendment passed in 2012 and the same DFL legislators were elected, I would agree that the push for civil unions would make sense because it would be the BEST we could get. But a funny thing happened in 2012. WE WON this fight!!!! For the first time in American history a state declined to amend their constitution to exclusively prohibit same-gender marriage. The opposition kept yelling “Let the people vote! Let the people vote! ” Well the people voted and our opponents LOST!!! It’s not our fault that the question wasn’t asked about the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. So unlike every other state in the country, we are the FIRST in the nation to ask our legislators to pass the freedom to marry bill AFTER the people were allowed to vote on our civil right to marriage. So HELL NO, we do not need to lower our request to an undignified separate and unequal civil union law (HF1687)!

    It also should be noted that as much as I could not negotiate my way out of a wet paper bag, I sure as hell know that you never start the process (Legislative session) with “I would really love to have the freedom to marry, but if you give me civil unions(HF1687), I’ll take it”. Brett, are you so clueless that you do not know that the opposition reads this magazine just as we (or at least, the politically informed) read their media just to know what “they” are thinking/saying about the LGBT community and legislative issues that concern us? So is it really a wonder that no one on our side wanted to talk to you in detail about strategy!?!

    So of course it makes sense that you flipped flopped when it would require you to do some WORK to get the freedom to marry bill passed, versus just hoping that the legislature would do your bidding because you would like them to. Passage of controversial legislation is very much like comedy. It’s all about timing (i.e. strategy). Again I ask. What have you done for the greater LGBT community Brett Stevens? You see, it is not enough to just write, you also have to do some of the heavy lifting.

    As I’ve said, I think you would rather grind your axe and score political points then actually pass the freedom to marry bill. And I point to the following:

    a) Lack of contributing more than $100.00 (if even a penny) to MN United to fight the amendment, much less participating in doing a phone bank or door knock. Note the post-election energy level Brett Stevens had, compared to those who were emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially exhausted from the 1&1/2 year amendment fight).

    b) Expecting everyone else (both the LGBT community and DFL Legislators) to WORK on your time line for passing the freedom to marry bill. Demanding that DFL Leaders and the Governor make statements about the freedom to marry that none of them ran for office on. You cannot show any statements or political literature saying they were going to pass a freedom to marry bill. Yet you demand that they to make it one of their top priorities. That was your own lunatic leap of assumption and yours alone. [This is where it would be wonderful to have Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler from SNL Weekend Update do their Really!?! routine]. When you quoted these leaders, not from your own interviews I might add, not ONCE did they say they would PROHIBIT a vote on the House or Senate floor. Had they said that, all hell would have broken loose and they knew that. But once again Brett Stevens showed his incredible lack of political experience and nuance.

    c) The Family Research Council, well known for telling the truth about the LGBT community, states that just over 1% of the population is lesbian or gay (they don’t even acknowledge bisexuals). Now I don’t buy that number, and at my age I really do not get caught up with what the exact percentage is, but we all know they are understating the percentage. But to seriously expect that the “whole state of Minnesota” should make marriage equality one of the state’s top 10 priorities for the session is idiotic by any measure. It is a top priority for me, but I do not expect the rest of the state to make it theirs. So your expectation is insane and unrealistic.

    d) In all of the volumes of written material, not once did Brett Stevens mention the OutFront Summit on December 1, 2012 (where strategy and a community decision was made to work exclusively for the freedom to marry bill) or the 2013 Valentine’s Day rally or Lobby day. Shame on you. If you had any understanding about politics at the legislative level you should know that it’s all about numbers—-how many show up for rallies, how many contact THEIR Senator and Representative, how many letters to the editor support the freedom to marry in the district’s newspapers. But once again, all of that would require WORK. I am willing to bet that you have never been to an OutFront lobby day. So why in hell did Lavender Magazine believe you had anything of value to contribute to getting the freedom to marry bill passed?

    e) Brett has been obsessed with people contacting the DFL leadership as if they are the only ones who write, pass and sign into law the bills at the state capitol. This ignorance is shear maddening. The DFL leadership is NOT a dictatorship—unlike the Republican leadership which lost big time in November. Any member of the Legislature is allowed to write bills. So all that is required, is having enough members who want to vote on a bill to make it happen. But instead, you focused the community’s time and energy on the DFL leadership instead of their own members in the legislature who are needed to pass the law.

    f) I know a childcare provider who tells her kids that “choices have consequences”. At the capitol when a person testifies you don’t get the opportunity to take a mushy middle position. You are required to choose a position of either FOR or AGAINST a bill. And Brett you made a choice to speak out AGAINST the freedom to marry bill not because you want something by the end of the legislative session, but because you did NOT want to do the WORK or fund the WORK to get the freedom to marry bill passed. In my humble opinion, that is a big betrayal to the community.

    The ultimate screw of the Minnesota LGBT and Allied community comes from this lazy right-wing republican who has set himself up perfectly. If the freedom to marry bill passes he gets what he claims he wanted. But if it doesn’t pass, he also gets to continue to grind his ax against the DFL and exclaim “I told you so!” All of this while he sat on the side of the mountain, spitting, throwing rocks and dumping grease on all the people throughout Minnesota that have been pushing the boulder up the mountain trying to get it over the top. As the saying goes, with friends like Brett Stevens and thus Lavender Magazine, who the hell needs enemies!! If the bill fails, I like a thousand other Minnesotans, will be devastated. But one thing will bring a smile to my face and that will be the knowledge the Brett Stevens will be left as empty handed as the rest of us. And next year I will sit on the sidelines as Brett tries to rally the community (ha ha) to pass the sub-standard civil unions bill (HF1687) and wonder why no one is following him.

    Paul Francis Fleege
    Saint Paul, Minnesota

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