Thursday, June 17, 2004

More on Civil Unions

The Civil Unions thread over on Just Left seems to be ticking along nicely. Meanwhile, Big News has expanded on some of his thoughts. One of his concerns is that both supporters and opponents of change aren't distinguishing between the two bills involved. Partly that's because the media has talked about it as if it was one piece of legislation, and partly it's because opposition has focused on the CU Bill. Just to summarise:

The Legal Recognition of Relationship (Omnibus) Bill will remove unjustified discrimination on the basis of marital status from existing laws, allowing de facto couples to do things like fixing their partner's toaster or visit them in hospital. It does this regardless of the gender of those concerned.

The Civil Unions Bill confers state recognition on partnerships by creating legal "Civil Unions". These unions are gender-blind, able to be accessed by both straight and gay couples, but it is expected that (at least at first) the primary users will be gay couples who cannot presently access the Marriage Act.

The primary purpose of the Civil Unions Bill is to confer status, on the basis that the government should not be formally recognising some couples but not others. Dave rightly asks why that status isn't conferred through same-sex marriage. And I agree - the government should be amending the Marriage Act to make it gender-blind. But, like the government, I don't think that's politically possible at the moment - too many bigots around, some of them with their hands clenched around the government's nads. And in that situation, progressives should grit their teeth, support progress now, and keep on fighting for true equality.

What would that true equality look like? One option is that mentioned above - making the Marriage Act gender-blind, thus allowing same-sex marriage. Another is for the government to abandon the "marriage" word to the religious wackos who think they own it, offer only Civil Unions, and relegate "marriage" to a legally meaningless thing you do in church. This isn't actually that much of a change - the contents of the Marriage Act are already entirely secular - so all it would entail is gender-blinding and a rebranding (or simply a repeal, as we would have the CU Bill). Either option achieves the same results as far as I'm concerned.