I was hoping you wouldn’t mind answering a question about civil unions. You’ve referred to them in a few of your blogs and I was curious as to where this term came from? To be honest, it seems like in the last couple of years this issue is suddenly the front page everywhere and I don’t honestly recall where it came from. I get the impression I may be on the fringe of the issue, I’m divorced and considering remarrying a lovely woman that I’ve been seeing for some time now. Can you help me out here? – Curious George
Dear Curious George,
Your question made me pause for a moment to think about it – when I think of the words civil union, I think of a ceremony made in a courthouse without religious overtones and such. But you have a point, where do civil unions as they are being bandied about in the media now come from?
The first Civil Unions were enacted in the United States in the state of Vermont in the year 2000. Though other countries such as Denmark began recognizing same-sex partnerships with civil unions as early as 1989. In Quebec and New Zealand, civil unions are open to all partnerships whether they are same-sex or opposite sex.
Of the countries with civil union or civil partnership laws, they recognize the civil unions and partnerships of another jurisdiction if the laws governing that union are close to their own. The United States federal government does not recognize these partnerships under the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was passed in 1996. Under DOMA, states are not obligated to recognize the same-sex unions of other states unless their own laws reflect similar views. The government is also not required to recognize the partnerships enacted in another country – so this may limit a same-sex couple’s options if they wanted to travel to Canada to marry there.
Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut have civil union laws. The California domestic partnership law has been expanded and looks very similar to civil union laws. As of January of this year, there are five countries that offer full same-sex marriage without needing to register it as a civil union – those countries include: The Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, South Africa and Spain.
Essentially, civil unions were an attempt to give same-sex partners a form of recognition once reserved only to married couples and for couples who wished to formalize their partnerships without entering into a religious marriage ceremony. In many places, couples that have entered a civil union are accorded the same rights and privileges of a married couple, but the argument wages onward in an effort to equalize the right to marry across the board.
There are some who refer to civil unions as marriage apartheid, but I think that pushes against the established culture a little too hard and a little too far. Civil unions as a recognized form of partnership and cohabitation is less than 20 years old and it can often take decades to change opinions, mindsets and traditions.
I support the right to advocate for either side and to look for changes within the current system, but the only way we will achieve those changes is to keep talking about the issue and to keep educating ourselves about what it means to both our fellows and to ourselves. I hope this answered your question.