Marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships it’s getting more and more difficult to remember who offers what to whom
I now declare that keeping track of which state offers what kind of protections to gay couples has officially become difficult. Hold on a second while I dip my signet ring in sealing wax.
When only a couple of states had ventured to give gay and lesbian couples legal standing, keeping track was easy. Now, as more states acknowledge gay relationships, it’s hard to sort out who has what where.
I’m not stepping into the quicksand around the argument over whether gays should pursue only marriage or go for the facsimiles. My point is that, good or bad, the facsimiles are here. And they’re already frazzling my brain.
Let’s begin in New Hampshire, where the governor just signed a law establishing civil unions. Gay New Hampshirites who enter into a civil union will have the same rights and responsibilities as married folks from inheritance rights to the right to bicker incessantly over taking out the trash.
New Hampshire joins Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey as the states currently offering civil unions. OK, that’s four states. Four. I can remember that.
And I can certainly remember that only one state allows same-sex marriage: Alabama.
Just keeping you on your toes. Massachusetts is the notable one, although anti-equality Massachusettsans are still battling to remove that distinction.
So that’s a total of five states with civil unions or marriage. Five. I feel like I’m doing an episode of “Sesame Street.”
Now things get squirrelly.
The governors of Washington and Oregon each recently signed a domestic partnership law. The Washington law provides some of the rights of marriage; the Oregon law provides many of the rights of marriage. So the Oregon domestic partnership law is really more like a civil union.
Likewise, California has over time expanded its domestic partnership statutes, so becoming domestic partners there is like being in a civil union. Which is like being in a marriage.
(This week, the California Assembly, for the second time in as many years, approved a bill establishing marriage rights for same-sex couples. Last time around, the state Senate also approved the measure, only to see Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot it down with his veto pen. The Governator has pledged to veto the bill this time around, too, if it gets to his desk.)
Methinks it’s time to buy stock in ibuprofen.
Maine and the District of Columbia conclude the list of those offering domestic partnerships. And the governor of Maine was set this week to sign a bill to give registered domestic partners access to the Family Medical Leave Act benefits.
Hawaii has something called “reciprocal beneficiaries,” and at this point I don’t even want to know what that is.
So Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, D.C. and Hawaii provide some form of legal recognition for gay relationships. That’s 10 states and one district.
And we’re still in the early stages of this process. Forget buying stock; I’m just laying in the ibuprofen.
If you’re as bad at geography as I am at math, let me point out for you that all this action has essentially been on the coasts. So far in the battle for marriage rights, the story is location, location, location.
To make things yet livelier, the laws in some of these 11 regions will change. A case before Connecticut’s Supreme Court could lead to civil unions being thrown over for marriage. California’s high court will have the chance to ditch domestic partnerships for marriage.
You know, of all the reasons for same-sex marriage, the fact that it’s so much easier to keep track of is fast becoming my favorite.
In addition to monitoring those states that may offer their citizens an upgrade to first class, I also have to keep tabs on how regions, with or without laws recognizing gay couples, choose to handle each other and their own relentlessly commitment-minded gays. A judge in New York just ruled that the marriages of Empire State gay couples who wed in Massachusetts before New York banned gay marriage are valid.
Never before have I wished the U.S. had about five states instead of 50.
Read more of Leslie Robinson’s columns at www.GeneralGayety.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 8, 2007.