VOICES AND ECHOES
APRIL 28, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
Gays may ruin 'traditional marriage'
Matthew A. Hennie
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In all the fuss over our demand that government recognize our freedom to marry,
the retort that always leaves homosexual
heads scratching is that we somehow pose a
threat to "traditional marriage."
As a literal matter, of course, it's true.
"Traditional marriage," by defini^m, has
not included same-sex couples.
But that's only an argument against
change. Before a landmark Supreme Court
decision in 1969, "traditional marriage" in
many parts of this country did not include
Now that the Vermont legislature has
chosen to follow the considered judgment
of that state's Supreme Court, and not the
cowardly example set by legislators in
Hawaii and Alaska, the voices alleging a
homosexual threat to "traditional marriage" will only get louder.
it's difficult to see how winning recognition of our relationships would discourage
happy heterosexual couples from taking the
marital plunge. So long as these opposite-
sex couples are actually heterosexual, a climate more welcome to gay relationships
shouldn't undermine their will to be wed.
But our fight for legal recognition—any
sort of legal recognition—has, in fact,
already undermined "traditional marriage"
for heterosexuals, though the result may
have been mostly unintentional.
In every place it's come up around the
planet, efforts to win full-fledged gay marriage rights have fallen at least somewhat
short of the mark. Conservative resistance
has prevailed, and gay couples have won
some variety of second-class recognition.
In the English-speaking world, the faux
marriages have been called "domestic partnerships." In France, they're called Pacte
civil de solidarity, or "PACS."
And because most gay rights leaders and
their friends in government are socially progressive, they've put up little resistance to
the argument that gays seeking inclusion in
THE VERMONT LEGISLATURE HAVING OKAYED CIVIL ONIONS FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES,
MR. 8 MRS. JEDEOIAH UNDERWOOD VttJT PATENTLY FOR IT TO DESTRCr/
THEIR 48-VEAR MARRIAGE.
marriage rights shouldn't exclude anyone
from these domestic partnerships.
So in most places, heterosexual couples
have also won access to the newly created
institution of almost-but-not-quite-marriage.
The effect on "traditional marriage" has
been dramahc. In France, where PACS were
first available last year, some 14,000 couples
have signed up, half of them heterosexual.
In a fascinating April 18 report by the Ntnv
York Times, these straight couples talked
about how happy they were to enter into
PACS, rather than marriage, which they saw
as "a burdensome institution, weighed down
with religious connotations, and likely to end
badly and at enormous expense."
Some described their PACS as a "trial
run" for marriage, but many said they had
no desire to fully tie the knot. In France, as
in many Roman Catholic countries, divorce
can be difficult and expensive. Dissolving a
PACS often involves merely giving notice
Vermont passes 'civil unions,'
to the other party.
Meanwhile, "PACS-ed" couples can file
jointly for taxes, be eligible for each other's
work place benefits, and automatically obtain
joint ownership of new property they acquire.
Back in the States, many heterosexual couples are also choosing domestic partnership
over marriage for many of the same reasons.
In almost every jurisdiction where DP status
is available, straight couples far outnumber
gay couples on the sign-up sheet.
This threat to "traditional marriage" as
an attractive relationship option comes at
the same time that some states are purposefully making it harder to enter and exit that
In Florida and Wisconsin, for example,
heterosexual couples are encouraged by a
marriage license discount to go through premarital counseling before they legally wed.
In other states, including Mississippi,
couples wishing to marry are offered the
option of entering into a separate marriage
scheme that does not permit "no fault"
divorce. To exit such an arrangement, one
partner must prove willful misconduct-
abuse or infidelity—by the other.
So far, it isn't working. Very few straight
couples—fewer than 15 percent—have
opted for the souped-up, ultra-traditional
marriage. The counseling option is still too
new, and according to another Times report,
the results are decidedly indecisive.
These ineffectual attempts at bucking
up traditional marriage are losing the battle
to a popular and easier alternative that is
increasingly available. There's your threat
to traditional marriage.
That may well be a good thing, but it is
ironic that the short-term resistance from
some quarters to recognition of gay marriage
has contributed significantly to the very
harm that our foes fear the most—the piecemeal destruction of traditional marriage.