Friday, July 28, 2006

West Coast Civil Unions -- Maybe

Out in Washington State, they don't seem to mind mixing bagels and doughnuts. Already one of the local papers seems to have picked up on the governor's implication that civil unions may be the way to go.

Following a split decision on a very narrow issue to reaffirm the state's DOMA, the high court there practically begged the legislature to step up and do something to resolve homosexual union issues. From this coast, it looked pretty stagnant, even hopeless, in light of the 30 years it took to pass a gay-rights bill, and that this year by a single vote.

Governor Christine Gregoire has been a strong voice for gay rights. On the other hand, she is tepid on same-sex marriage, seeming to favor civil unions.

I can barely keep a finger on Boston politics, much less grok the gestalt of Olympia. Yet, Wednesday's curious comments from the governor there dovetail into the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial on the next steps for the legislature.

As background, be aware that the state's Supreme Court judges really seemed atavistic on this, particularly Jim Johnson. Ignoring the legal basis for marriage in the state, five of them muddled religious ritual and civil marriage.

Unfortunately, even the governor doesn't get this. Her entire statement, as published in commentary from The Stranger, shows her confusion:
As Governor, I do not believe the state should discriminate against any citizen. I also believe that personal religious beliefs are protected by our Constitution.

On the issue of gay marriage, Washington is a very diverse state and there are many strongly held opinions and personal feelings on this issue. I ask all Washingtonians to respect their fellow citizens. The Supreme Court has ruled and we must accept their decision whether we agree with it or not.

As to my personal beliefs, Mike and I received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic faith. State government provided us with certain rights and responsibilities, but the state did not marry us.

I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state.
Of course, the state did marry Christine and Mike. That she chooses to believe that her R.C. ceremony was the totality speaks to her upbringing, not the law. The legal fact is that they are married under civil law only because the state issued the license and accepted the priest's signature as one authorized solemnizer of the civil contract.

Whether she had an overlay of Catholic ceremony on her state-authorized marriage really has nothing to do with anything. That is, except that the majority of the justices seem similarly confused.

While one would hope that the majority of legislators know the law better than the governor, none of us can be sure of that yet. People who don't get the separation of church and state tend to be the same ones who can't understand how civil contracts are the basis for marriage authority both there and here.

Thus, the PI editorial suggests that the time is already ripe for civil unions in Washington, on the way to full marriage equality...eventually.

Calling the gay-rights law evidence of "a sea change," the editorial says that civil unions could happen in a few months. It states, "But there is no reason to wait on political change. Before the court decision, state Rep. Ed Murray promised to introduce a marriage bill if necessary. We hope he does so, and that he sees value in accepting a civil union law as a compromise while looking ahead toward a gender-neutral approach to civil marriage licenses."

Readers here know that we don't favor such stepping-stone approaches. Too often the travelers find themselves stuck in the river with no next stone to help them continue.

Yet, it should be a hot time in Olympia this fall and next spring. The political races -- including three Supreme Court justice ones -- have newly clarified issues. Then on January 8th, 2007 (Elvis' birthday), all eyes and ears will follow the legislature...and expect some resolution.

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Anonymous said...

Where did I say I support Civil Unions as a stepping stone?
I have said I will introduce a marriage equality bill and I have said we should introduce hundreds of individual bills in our legislature dealing with all the separate aspects of marriage. Holding hearings on marriage equality in every committee in the legislature will give us the opportunity to really educate the state and legislators.
There are many ways to get to marriage equality, and a little less dictating the true religion from the east coast to those of way out west would be helpful. Where did I say would support civil unions?

massmarrier said...

I used stepping stone, based not on your comments. Rather the editorial, with which I disagree, extrapolated from your position. It says start with civil unions. Again, I don't see that as the way to go and I hope you don't, despite what the editorial writer wishes.