Is there a difference between marriage and civil union?
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Yes. In a gay-marriage situation, civil unions are recognized by the state and are not true marriages, carrying only a few to many of the benefits of marriage, depending on the state. Generally, marriage is recognized by the church, but that has been thoroughly muddled too. In my own church, we recognize and celebrate gay commitment ceremonies, but can't perform gay marriages because it is illegal under state law and church law in this diocese. It is a legal definition mostly. I and many of my parishioners would recognize a gay couple as "married" even though legally they are not.
You will have a much bigger difficulty proving you were not treated equally when you sue for federal marriage recognition, by citing the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, if you don't have the word "marriage" on your documentation.
The federal government does not recognize marriages by gay Americans. They do not recognize the marriages of people of the same gender in the state of Massachusetts, for example.
Under the 14th amendment, you are supposed to have the exact same rights as everyone else. So if you and your partner are gay and have a Massachusetts marriage license, for example, which is not recognized by the federal government, then you have cause for a lawsuit againt the government to get the same rights as your fellow straight Americans. You can go to the courts and say, "Here's my marriage license. Where are my Social Security survivor benefits?! Why am I not getting the same benefits as everyone else?, etc."
If the license is a "civil union" license, your court case will be that much harder to prove because the word "marriage" isn't on it, and the issue of being treated equally would be a little harder to prove semantically.
A case such as this will come before the courts most certainly within the next decade or so, and DOMA will indeed be struck down, and the government will have to recognize everyone's marriages equally.
The connotation of marriage is that there is a spiritual or religious connection. If someone gets married in a ceremony without a recognized officiant or license, the government does not recognize it. So, the government should remove all mention of "marriage" and recognize only those who have signed a contract or other proof of civil union--regardless of whether they are 'married' or not.
A "civil union" is a legal contract between two people and the state, giving them certain privileges (eg: tax benefits) and changing how the law treats them in various other ways (eg: shared guardianship). Marriage, on the other hand, means various things. It means what civil unions mean - legal matrimony; but it also refers to several long-standing social and religious traditions that bind people together, most notably (in the US at least) Christian matrimony. It's no surprise that these meanings are contained in the same word - legal matrimony was at first merely a legal recognition of these social traditions.
But the fact is these meanings are separate. So marriage in the legal sense is only different from civil unions in that a different word is used, and perhaps a few legal details differ. But marriage in the broader, socio-religious sense, certainly does differ from civil unions. The solution to the controversy surrounding gay marriage is to unbind legal matrimony from the social and religious concepts it originated in. Instead of giving "civil unions" to partnerships unacceptable to certain religions and "marriages" to those that are acceptable, give civil unions to everyone, straight, gay, polygamous, whatever and let "marriage" take on a purely cultural connotation.
Disambiguate your meanings, and often what seemed a knotty problem becomes simple and clear as day.
If you look at the differences between a marriage and a civil union, there really is not a major difference. However, it is a big difference when you are gay and you want to get married. If it is banned, you cannot say "I am married." You would have to say "I am in a civil union." Many people growing up dream about their wedding day. And if you find that person you want to share the rest of your life with- whether its recognized by the state or recognized religiously- you should still be able to state that and let the world know that you have married the one you love.
They are most definitely not the same regardless of the rights granted.
Brown vs Board of Education showed most assuredly that separate is most definitely not equal. As soon as you come up with another word, oh, like civil union, you have automatically made their "union" inferior to heterosexual monogamous "marriages" and have relegated their relationships to a social underclass creating discrimination.
For the same commitment they should be granted the same rights, anything less than that is discrimination.
I have written much more on my BLog:
1. Rebuttal of arguments:
(i) Argument that TV shows ruin the sanctity of marriage:
Not relevant, for whether the sanctity is ruined or not, it does not affect its comparison with civil union;
(ii) Argument that allowing homosexuals to marry (enter into a marriage) is a civil rights issue:
Marriage, as defined further on in 2.(i), is a part of the Church. As opposition pointed out themselves, Church is separated from the State. Ergo, civil rights, as a part of the State, have nothing to do with marriage, since it is a part of the Church.
2. Arguments for the resolution:
Since there can only be difference between marriage and civil union if we look at the possible homosexual couples wishing to enter into one of these unions, I shall look at the argument as whether marriage and/or civil union can include homosexual couples.
(i) A marriage, by definition, is a sacred union that ties a man and a woman by vows;
(ii) A civil union is a union that ties two persons by vows.
There is no need to change the definition of 'marriage' to include homosexual couples because:
(a) Marriage is accepted as a term introduced by The Bible;
(b) The Bible looks at homosexuals as sinners, therefore not accepting them.
From (b) follows that homosexuals cannot follow The Bible - not because of their choice but because of the contens of The Bible.
Ergo, they cannot - and, in fact, cannot wish to - enter into a marriage since they cannot be accepted as Christians because of the (b).
Because of (a), therefore, homosexual couples can only wish to be and be accepted into a civil union while they cannot wish to be and be accepted into a marriage.
Ergo, there is a difference between marriage and civil union.
You couldn't be more wrong! Marriage IS NOT solely "part of the church".
In fact, the history of marriage goes back long before the church! Marriage dates back several thousand years, emerging as a civil arrangement at the same time as the emergence of private property. Far from fulfilling any religious purpose to unite one man and one woman, anthropologists theorize that most primitive marriages were polygamous. Marriages were entered into in order to expand the land or material goods base of a clan, either through the receipt of a dowry or the merger of two clans' assets. Religious guidelines around marriage are not thought to have developed until the practice was several hundred years old, and were first used as a means of preventing different religious groups from losing wealthy followers by restricting them from marrying into other religions.
In Western Europe, it was not until the Middle Ages that marriage in churches began to occur. However, church marriages were not the norm until the 17th century, and then only for the nobility. Marriage was also used as a tool to unite different royal families' bloodlines, creating alliances that were instrumental in enabling the European monarchies to colonize the globe.
Not to mention that there are many different types of marriages around the world! (for example Polygamy, Sexless Marriage, Common-Law MArriage, Arrange Marriage, etc.) In fact, many other nations (including the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa) recognize same sex marriages. Non-denominational weddings happen every day. Marriage is certainly NOT a "church" thing.
Like I said, if the church wishes to exclude homosexuals from their "club" I have no problem. But the government CANNOT except this without creating Civil Rights Injustices.
Actually, you really don't know your Bible as well as you think you do. Marriages were largely a matter only for wealthy couples, because it was a way to transfer wealth upon death. Peasants throughout history pretty much just moved in with each other and that was that. Marriage for the common masses is pretty much a fairly recent thing, being only in the last couple of hundred years or so all that common for them.
As to marriage in the United States, sorry, that's a legal right. And as for your ridiculous argument that gay people cannot hope to be accepted in the Christian church, buddy, you try telling that to my church, at the local, diocese, or national level. I'm quite accepted in my church. Don't worry, I promise not to step foot in your fundamentalist church. Why on earth would I want to join some place so filled with such hate and un-Christian people?
For all of you arguing on the basis of biblical reasoning, I have to say that what the bible says has exactly no bearing on this conversation. We are talking about the issue of secular marriage as defined and granted by the government.
What the bible says about marital matters only in a distinctly Christian settings, like, oh say, a church. Separation of church and state dictates that this, thankfully, be the case, regardless of what you may believe, else we would be living in a Christian Fundementalist Theocracy! Eeeek! That would be a sad day. =(
When it comes to the state, there is no difference between marriage and civil union. They are claiming that "civil union" has all the same benefits that "marriage" has. Why not just call it marriage? Oh wait...many think that it degrades the "sanctity" of marriage. Ha! If thats not the biggest load I have ever heard. Beacuse having a reality TV show called "Who wants to marry a midget", "who wants to marry a millionaire" or "The bachelor" doesn't ruin the "sanctity" of marriage. Not to mention that the divorce rate is over 50% in this country (probably higher in Hollywood...who seem to be the icons of our country) Gimmie a break! If any religious institution has a problem with homosexuals...fine, you can't get married by the church. But once again we are faced with separating church and state. The status of "civil unions" create Second class citizens of the gay community (as stated by a commission to study gay civil unions in NJ a few months ago). This whole issue has nothing to do with the semantics of the word (marriage is defined as man and woman)...are we that childish? Meanings of words are constantly being re-defined. Its about religion, and right now...politicians are pandering to all the religious voters who find homosexuals abhorrent. Look...its gonna be called "marriage", its just a matter of when. This is a civil rights issue, and like the battles fought by minorities in the 60s and women in the 20's and 70's, homosexuals will eventually win their properly deserved rights. I don't understand why this country is so afraid of change. I will fight to my last dying breath before I let this country become run by religious fundamentalists...like Iran or Saudi Arabia. Everyone is to be treated equally, don't people get that if you create laws that promote unjust thinking and descrimination then you are hurting everyone, not just those being descriminated against? I dare someone to logically argue that gays should NOT be married under the term "marriage"...its impossible because this issue makes no sense to waste our politicians time and energy on.
New Jersey Gay Couples Treated Like Second Class Citizens. (www.yourgayrealestate.com)