Civil Unions

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader and his very good friend Smallholder had, in this space, a going debate about Gay Marriage a few years ago. Smallholder was disappointed in your Maximum Leader’s continuing adherence to marriage as a primarially religious institution from which gays should be barred. This discrimination irritated Smallholder then, and likely still does to this day. Moreover, this position has not endeared your Maximum Leader to a few gay people he knows.

So, let your Maximum Leader throw some stuff out there for you all to read over (and maybe think about). Your Maximum Leader has not changed his opinion that marriage is a fundamentally socio-religious institution that is meant to give a permenant bonded status to a man and a woman for the purposes of procreation and child-rearing. Over time, this relationship as become a cornerstone of civil society. As such it has had legal benefits attached to it. Because of these legal benefits, many people believe that marriage as an institution should be open to all loving couples who want to partake of it.

Your Maximum Leader still firmly believes that marriage is a hetrosexual institution. But he understands the legal benefit argument put forward by many who disagree with him. There is a libertarian streak in your Maximum Leader that doesn’t like the state telling him that he can only allocate resources (or benefits) that he has accrued (or otherwise earned or paid for) to specific people - namely his family. If your Maximum Leader wanted to put his friend Kevin on his health insurance policy (and pay the corresponding premiums) that choice should be available to him. It is not of course, and this is one of the instances of injustice that supporters of gay marriage frequently cite.

Your Maximum Leader has, at least privately - and perhaps on this blog (although he can’t find a link right now), maintained that “the government” shouldn’t be in the business of marriage. We live in a free (at least for the moment) society where many people do not share religous beliefs. We also live in a secular state. Knowing this it seems reasonable to allow a general “civil union” be be an option for all couples who might want to get some legal benefits that currently accrue only to married people.

You might be saying “Self, my Maximum Leader seems to be making a semantic distinction here.” Perhaps he is. Perhaps supporters are making their own semantic non-distinction.


Your Maximum Leader read an interesting article on the WaPo web site the other day. Here is said interesting WaPo article: Straight Couples in France are Choosing Civil Unions Meant for Gays. Some tidbits from the piece:

The PACS [Civil Solidarity Pact] was introduced a decade ago by France’s then-Socialist Party government. Parliament approved the measure only after a fierce debate because, although its wording was deliberately ambiguous, the arrangement was understood mainly as a way for gay couples to legalize their unions even though under French law they are not allowed to marry.

In passing the law without making it specific to gays, however, France distinguished itself from other European countries that have approved civil unions or even marriage for same-sex couples. As a result of that ambiguity, the PACS broadened into an increasingly popular third option for heterosexual couples, who readily cite its appeal: It has the air of social independence associated with the time-honored arrangement that the French call the “free union” but with major financial and other advantages. It is also far easier to get out of than marriage.

But even though their arrangements are now socially accepted, unmarried couples living together have found they face financial and administrative disadvantages compared with their married friends. Joint income tax returns can lower the annual bill considerably. Inheritance laws make transferring property to someone who is not a legal spouse more expensive and more difficult. Dealing with the French administration can be an ordeal without legal documents attesting to a place of residence and a social status.

But PACS unions are also seen as more appealing than marriage because they can be dissolved without costly divorce procedures. If one or both of the partners declares in writing to the court that he or she wants out, the PACS is ended, with neither partner having claim to the other’s property or to alimony.

So by taking advantage of the PACS, French couples get the legal benefits of marriage (like transfering property, establishing residency and joint tax returns) but aren’t married. Indeed, the PACS seems to be growing in popularity throughout France.

Your Maximum Leader’s French language skills are not good enough to find out if French homosexuals are outraged because they still can’t get married - even though a substitute institution with the same legal benefits exists.

Your Maximum Leader believes that an institution similar to the PACS would be a viable option in the United States.

Carry on.

UPDATED: Our friend FLG writes in the comments: “Tangentially, couples who do get married in France must get married in a civil ceremony regardless of whether they will subsequently be married in a church or not. So, a Catholic couple will have a small ceremony at City Hall, and then go to a church for the religious ceremony. However, only the first is legal binding.” Your Maximum Leader thought he knew this fact. He also meant to make reference to France’s history (since the Revolution) of strict secularism in public affairs. Alas, your Maximum Leader often publishes ill-thought through crap on his blog so he didn’t make this point. All in all your Maximum Leader would prefer to see the US go towards a more secular approach to benefits and couple’s legal status. Religion can flourish where it is not interfered with by the state.

Carry on… (Again.)

Fear and Loathing in Georgetown said:

Tangentially, couples who do get married in France must get married in a civil ceremony regardless of whether they will subsequently be married in a church or not. So, a Catholic couple will have a small ceremony at City Hall, and then go to a church for the religious ceremony. However, only the first is legal binding.

Kevin Kim said:

FLG is correct. When I was “le témoin” (the witness) at Dominique and Véronique Ducoulombier’s wedding, there were two ceremonies the same day, one at the Carquefou city hall, and one at the local cathedral.

The French policy of secularism (le laïcisme) is probably more pronounced than it is in the States, and often leads to more conflicts, such as those instances where female Muslim students are banned from wearing “le tchador” while at public school.

See more here.


PS: The general swing of the gay marriage debate seems to be toward the idea of viewing marriage, per se, as sacramental, i.e., religious, and viewing civil unions as more of a legal matter. This allows couples and religious institutions to privately resolve the question of what marriage is, what it’s for (I disagree that marriage is solely or fundamentally about procreation– sterile heterosexual couples would agree), and whether a wedding can justifiably be performed. It separates the religious issue from the practical, legal issues that arise when two consenting adults formally choose to commit their lives to each other. While not the cleanest possible cut, it’s consistent with our own tradition of church/state separation, and may be the best Solomon’s solution available, short of a constitutional amendment defining marriage simply as the lifelong commitment of two consenting adults.

Indeed, that has been my belief for some time, and I really should get about to blogging on it: I think the most equitable, and indeed perhaps most constitutional, solution is NOT to “legalize” gay marriage, but rather to remove the word Marriage from the legal institution of civil unions altogether — civil unions for all. Those who believe marriage is 1 man and 1 woman will not be forced to recognize gay unions as such, but neither will they have the weight of law backing up their position.

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