The Blog

More Than a Civil Union: It's Marriage That Matters

While the gay community will never convince the most conservative that we should have the right to marry (and divorce), what is most upsetting is when our allies, including the president, stop short on this issue.
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While entering the institution of marriage voluntarily seems to be losing its luster amongst opposite-sex couples -- many same-sex couples are red-hot for equal access to it, given its germane economic benefits.

President Obama, in a speech to LGBT donors in New York June 23, spoke of supporting equal rights for same-sex couples, but he did not use the word marriage in that comment. Instead, he made it clear he believes marriages are a right administered by the states. He neglected to acknowledge, however, that the federal government does in fact recognize these marriages through a wide range of financial and other benefits.

The right to civil union vs. marriage is treacherous ground. Recently, Obama's spokesperson stumbled when trying to clarify Obama's own devolution on the topic. President Obama once stated he favored legalization of same-sex marriages in a survey to Outlines newspaper (now Windy City Times) in 1996. And to this day he has never denied this statement.

Recently a White House spokesman suggested the survey was not completed by Obama. However that comment has been retracted.

The denial has caused confusion for those who want to believe the president understands and supports the equality upon which he campaigned.

The ironic phenomenon of gays pushing for the government to be in their bedrooms -- from New York to California and many states in between -- is not just because they want to register at Macy's and travel to a welcoming vacation spot for their honeymoon. No. it's much bigger than that. The long quest for marriage is based on three converging concepts.

First, many of our families view our lives through the lens of tradition.

Our families don't "get" us through gay pride parades, drag shows or Dykes on Bikes. But rather can better understand us when we do things they like to do: getting married, having kids, baking cookies.

I have seen firsthand how the tradition of marriage (or the compromise: civil unions) dramatically changes how straight family members view us. It sometimes only takes a few hours of toasts, drinks and dancing to actually see progress happen. We change minds by changing hearts.

Secondly, it's about equality.

If two couples of the opposite sex who have known each other five minutes can get hitched (or even those in arranged marriages, in prison, etc.), then same-sex couples together for five minutes or 50 years should have that same right. It's basic.

And thirdly, it's about money.

The fight for equal marriage rights is actually mostly about economic inequality. There are more than 1,000 benefits of marriage, some of the biggest being federal (inheritance tax, social security benefits, etc.) There are millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families who pay a high "gay tax" for being different. It has bankrupted some and forced others out of their homes.

Frankly, I wish the federal government, and state governments, would get out of the business of marriage altogether.

People should be allowed to designate their survivor benefits, inheritance, pensions, health benefits, child custody, and other areas through normal legal channels.

There should not be a government-sanctioned bias towards two people who just happen to be married, same-sex or opposite-sex.

But while that bias exists, it needs to be equally applied.

As someone who has covered the gay community for almost three decades, I can see why not everyone understands why marriage is important. It may even seem like a "luxury" issue, one that can wait until other goals are achieved. But marriage is not severable from key quality of life issues, and, in fact, by advocating for full marriage, the gay rights movement has inadvertently pulled other issues further along with it.

Our allies placate the community with "lesser" victories, while we keep our eye on the full-equality prize.

We are at an important crossroads; it's a tipping point along the arc of justice.

While the gay community will never convince the most conservative among us that we should have the right to marry (and divorce), what is most upsetting is when our allies, including the president, stop short on this issue.

Many support gays putting their lives on the line in the military, equal adoption and foster care rights, hate crimes legislation and AIDS funding. But marriage vexes them.

While Obama's political views are what is most important, and he has said he is against the Defense of Marriage Act -- it is his personal view that is most interesting, because it does reflect a stripe of the political spectrum.

It is a narrow band of people who "like us" but say: why not settle for civil unions?

If you truly believe we as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens are equal in all ways, there should be nothing in the way of your support for full equality. If you ask us to compromise, to settle for unequal civil unions; you are saying, in no uncertain terms, that we are not the same.

Tracy Baim is publisher of Windy City Times newspaper. She is the author of several books, including Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage. Contact: