Washington's Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire, has signed domestic partnerships into state law
Three cheers for this development; it will be a relief to be guaranteed hospital visitation rights, the right of inheritance, etc. It's not everything, but it's something.
But, oddly, I find myself in a sort of agreement with the one dissenting quote in the article. It's from Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor who is the leader of Positive Christian Agenda (yes, folks, nothing is more positive than trying to treat one tenth of the population as second-class citizens), and he said:
"I think it's an unfortunate step backward, not knowing where it will lead us culturally. Giving marriage-lite benefits without the benefit of marriage strikes me as not a good idea."
Well, you know, Joe (can I call you Joe? Would you freak out if I put my arm around you? I promise you won't catch queer cooties from me), you have a point, you know. It seems entirely reasonable to wonder if, once you make the legal rights conferred by marriage available to gay people and senior citizens via a non-marriage legal arrangement, it's only a matter of time before someone successfully argues that the equal protection clause requires you to offer domestic partnership to straight couples who want them, too. And then, potentially, the institution of marriage will be fundamentally diminished, because straight people will have other options and not everyone is going to find "traditional" marriage as appealing as a somewhat less binding legal relationship that confers many of the same benefits.
But, Joe, here's the thing. I'm sure the solution you prefer is to say, well, domestic partnerships might alter marriage, so let's just leave gay people out in the cold. The problem you run into there is, most people aren't cool with that. It's blatantly unfair, and every time they poll the public, more and more of them agree with me--if you take the number of people who support gay marriage outright, and add the number of people who support civil unions, you have a majority. Poll people under 30 and you can find majorities who support actual gay marriage. History is not with you on this one. You have
to give us something. You don't have a choice.
In the long run, I tend to think you don't even have a choice about what you give us, gay marriage is coming. But in the short run, you have two choices. Create a "separate-but-equal" institution, domestic partnerships/civil unions (and we all know how well that worked with black people and how favorably history views racial segregation). In doing so, invite a future in which marriage is not the only option, when perhaps legal relationships between two people become a buffet table almost, with numerous arrangements conferring different benefits and responsibilities, with "marriage" being the name merely of one of the options.
Or, leave marriage precisely as it is, except lift the gender restrictions.
If you want to "preserve" traditional marriage, Joe, your best bet is to let us into it. It's a lot less likely to be disruptive than creating a lot of semi-marriage alternatives.
The thing is, for all the talk about "preserving traditional marriage," that's really a pretty meaningless phrase. Marriage changes all the time. Go back a few decades and you find a world where, within a marriage, the man is king, and always the breadwinner, and the woman is basically his maid, his concubine and an empty vessel to his ambitions. Go back much further and you find a world in which marriage is primarily an economic relationship, with men basically selling their daughters, and powerful families intermarrying for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with love (the very thought would have been absurd).
Go back to Biblical times, Joe--the time of the stories on which I'm sure you believe you're basing your worldview--and you find polygamy, spousal abuse, men beating their new wives to death with rocks for not being virgins, dozens of attributes of "marriage" which we today would find repugnant and even criminal. And that's a good thing, because the institution has evolved, and must evolve as society does, to stay alive.
We are at a turning point now, Joe, and society is going to accept gay relationships as legitimate, and the laws are going to reflect that, and therefore, from a legal standpoint at least, if you freeze marriage where it is and start letting new legal relationships evolve instead, eventually marriage will become, legally at least, an irrelevant institution.
And I personally don't even have a problem with that. There are over one thousand legal rights conferred by marriage, and I believe I am as entitled as any straight person to every last one of them, but I really don't care what name they travel under. I actually think it might solve a lot of problems if we called the legal rights "domestic partnerships" and had every couple, gay or straight, get one, and then left "marriage" to religious institutions, to confer or not confer as they saw fit. To me that'd be a hell of a lot more sensible than what we do now.
You're the one for whom "saving marriage" is a big deal. So which will it be, Joe? Marriage has to either let people like me in, or be left behind.