A happy beginning

This morning the New Hampshire law legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples went into effect. Thirty-seven couples were married in a group ceremony at the New Hampshire Statehouse, where the law was enacted, right as the new year began. Most amazing of all: there weren’t any protesters.

As ceremonies go, the outdoors event that began at 11 p.m. Monday was equal parts political rally, party and personal triumph.

”We really didn’t believe that we’d be able to see this accomplished within one year but it has happened,” state Rep. Jim Splaine, a sponsor of the civil unions bill, told the cheering crowd of about 200. ”One thing we have to keep in mind is that there is much more to do. We have to continue the journey to make sure that we have marriage equality, full marriage equality — with the word marriage — soon.”

New Hampshire’s civil unions law — enacted by the Democrat-dominated Legislature early last year and signed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch in May, gives same sex couples the same rights, responsibilities and obligations of marriage without calling the union a marriage. New Hampshire is the fourth state in the nation to allow civil unions.

”We are a citizen legislature and we legislated this into being,” said state Rep. Gail Morrison, a Democrat and co-organizer of the event who entered into a civil union with her longtime partner.

New Hampshire is now one of only five states that legally recognizes same-sex couples, four with civil unions and only one with marriage. Baby steps. Allowing same-sex unions to hold the same legal title as opposite-sex unions is a very important symbolic and political step. And it’s sad to be so close and yet so far away. But I think that what most of us can agree on is that in the end, this battle isn’t nearly as much about the message as it is about the rights. Being able to make medical decisions on the other’s behalf when necessary, easier adoption processes, health care benefits, pension and inheritance access, etc. This is about people’s lives. Hopefully, we can trust Rep. Jim Splaine on his promise to keep up the pressure, and we can fight for the necessary symbolic step another day. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the victory. Good job, New Hampshire.

0 thoughts on “A happy beginning

  1. Steve Newton

    I guess it is just my libertarian weirdness, but my solution to the whole gay marriage controversy is to get the government out of the business of marriage. All the government should be able to do is perform “civil unions” and then it would be between you, your church, or whoever else really cares to characterize or solemnize the relationship.

    Here’s my constitutional amendment:

    “The right of two consenting adults to a civil union shall not be infringed. All ceremonies of civil marriage performed prior to the adoption of this amendment shall be considered civil unions under the law, and all rights and privileges previously pertaining to marriage shall henceforth pertain to civil unions.”

  2. Cara Post author

    I’ve heard the idea before, and I think that it’s a pretty good one. Unfortunately, I also don’t think that it’s a system that we’ll ever see in my lifetime.

  3. Steve Newton

    I’m not quite as pessimistic about that as you are, Cara. It seems to me that events in this arena are speeding up rather than slowing down.

    I think at the point where a certain number of states act on their own (not, however, being willing to posit a number as the tipping point) there will be immense pressure for a Federal statute or constitutional amendment.

    I honestly think that the exit polling data from the 2004 election–especially in Ohio, which is a key state–shows pretty strongly that his “defense of marriage” position and the ballot initiative there did not benefit George W. and may have actually cost him votes.

    It is already the case that a divorced Catholic without an annulment decree can only have a marriage that is a civil union, because the church won’t recognize that marriage–and there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Catholics out there in that position.

  4. Cara Post author

    It is already the case that a divorced Catholic without an annulment decree can only have a marriage that is a civil union, because the church won’t recognize that marriage–and there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Catholics out there in that position.
    Yes, but that’s a religious issue. The government still recognizes any second marriage of a Catholic as a marriage. Just like no church has formally recognized my marriage, and yet I’m still married.
    I think that we will see civil unions for same-sex couples nationally in my lifetime. I would also like to think that we’ll have same-sex marriage as well. What the whole “gay marriage” debacle has showed is that people are extraordinarily attached to the word “marriage.” So attached that lots of people who think that same-sex couples should have the right to form legal relationships don’t want them to call it “marriage.” That position confuses me most of all, but it’s a very popular one. Personally, I can see people being more willing to share the title of marriage than give it up for themselves. I imagine that the religious would be the most upset, even though it would affect them the least. But a lot of non-religious couples would be upset, too. I think it’s ridiculous that this whole debacle is over a stupid word. But it is.
    So I think that they’re two different questions. In my view, your argument is correct in so far as opposition to gay marriage and civil unions is losing popularity. Civil unions among same-sex couples are gaining popularity. Other than you, a couple of op-ed writers, and maybe Barack Obama, depending on how you interpret some of his comments, I don’t hear anyone talking about doing away with marriage as a legal concept for straight people. I’m not sure what states you expect to try to get straight people to give up the title of marriage, but I sure haven’t heard of them.


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