Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hawaii Governor Signs Civil Unions Bill, more on Obama's DOMA Decision

Wednesday was certainly an historic day for our community. Not only has the Obama administration decided to no longer defend DOMA in court, but Hawaii's Governor Jim Abercrombie signed legislation legalizing civil unions for all couples, regardless of the sex of the participants. The law goes into effect January 1, 2012.

Under the new law, couples in civil unions will have all the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of traditional marriage. It clarifies that although the federal government does not recognize civil unions, certain aspects of the Internal Revenue Code that apply to husbands and wives, will also apply equally to couples in civil unions.

When it comes to ending a civil union, the family courts will have the same jurisdiction as they do over the separations, annulments and divorces of married couples.

Gov. Abercrombie told the Honolulu Star Advertizer, "For me, this bill represents equal rights for everyone in Hawaii -- everyone who comes here. This is, to me, the essence of the aloha spirit."

As I write about this, I have very mixed emotions. Yes this is a major step forward for the LGBT community. Hawaii will become the seventh state to legalize civil unions. For gay and lesbian couples in Hawaii, this is more legal recognition than they have ever had. Hawaii was the first state to attempt to legalize same-sex marriage in the 90's, which kicked off the whole marriage equality fight. This is a very real victory for queer Hawaiians and their families.

However, as I've said before, I'm not a supporter of civil unions. For me, a civil union is like coming in second in the Olympics. It's a a great moment that is worthy of recognition and should be celebrated, but it's the silver medal, not the gold. Nobody ever remembers who came in second. Nobody is ever satisfied with coming in second. We should not be either.

This law - and every civil union law - says that because I am gay, I am not worthy of marriage. It says that I am not equal to my six brothers and sisters, all of whom are married. It says that my married neighbors are better than me. It says that my government is trying pacify me by giving me something less than than I deserve as a tax paying American citizen.

Civil unions, which are a separate and unequal legal status for gays and lesbians, only prolong our fight. Once Prop 8 and DOMA are overturned - and they will be -  we will have to start all over again from scratch. We will find ourselves waging legal battles not just in states that ban marriage equality and anything similar to it, but also in civil union states, in order to achieve true equality.

You think things are ugly now? Wait until some "liberal" governor tells you to shut up and sit down and just be happy with what you have.

The state that grants civil unions is like a mother giving chewing gum to her hungry child. It may take his mind off his hunger pangs for a little while, but it's not good enough and it's just not right.

It is unclear whether we can look to the White House or the Justice Dept for any more help on this. AG Holder says the DOJ will stay involved in the pending cases, but will most likely want to remain neutral.

In essence, by deciding to no longer defend legal challenges to DOMA, the president, like Pontius Pilot, has washed his hands of us and taken himself out of the fight. The man who promised to be our "fierce advocate" has not just thrown us under the bus, he may well have thrown us to the wolves.

Talking Points Memo reported last night that our fight for marriage equality has just entered uncharted territory. Even the lawyers on the front lines don't know how this will play out.
The big question following the Obama administration's announcement that it would not argue in support of the Defense of Marriage Act is whether Congress (or individual members of the House or Senate) would step in to defend the law themselves.

Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, thinks a member of Congress will get involved somehow.

"We expect there will be a defense coming from Congress," Swislow told TPM in a phone interview.
Swislow added, "We don't totally understand -- it's a process which isn't used very often. We do know that a defense can come from either or both chambers -- that's pretty much the limit of my knowledge."

We can expect our opponents in Washington to fight even dirtier. We can expect to see a more prominent role for homo haters like Maggie Gallagher, Matt Barber and Tony Perkins.

In a related story, now that the elections are over and the balance of power has shifted, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has decided that it is now safe to introduce a bill to repeal DOMA. This bill has no chance of passing in the current Republican-dominated congress. Where was she last year and the year before? Where were any of the democrats when they could have made a difference?

This fight is far from over and the gloves are off.
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