Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gay Equality: A review

Gay Equality

I would like to take a moment to reiterate what the idea of “equal rights for gays” (symbolized by the HRC “=” (equals) sign on its blue an yellow logo) means, to me at least. I recall the “Equality Rocks” concert at RFK Stadium in Washington in April 2000 well.

Coming from the Cold War era, I am struck by how equal rights has to be correlated with equal responsibilities for others (more or less). Since gays usually don’t create children with their relationships, it’s hard to make that work, and you have the apples and orange problem. But here is a practical guide to what it would mean.

(1) End the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military and replace it with a policy similar to that or our allies, like Britain or Israel.

Of course, I am too old to serve now (although the upper age limit continues to increase), but the policy should be such that, if I weren’t too old or otherwise disqualified, I should be able to serve. However, according to the 1993 law, my open statements in my books and websites (including this blog posting) would make me legally ineligible.

DADT can complicate the service of gays in other areas, like law enforcement, even teaching, or when gays in the military have civilian “spouses” with security clearances.

As noted earlier this month on this blog, a recent CNN poll shows that nearly 80% of Americans favor allowing gays to serve (whatever the constitutional defenses of DADT).

(2) For now, provide equal benefits for same sex partners in most meaningful circumstances, even if the word “marriage” isn’t used.

In my 1997 book, I had suggested that the definition of marriage should be continued to be resolved by the states, and that no state definition of marriage be used for federal purposes. This was a pragmatic proposal (at this link – look for proposed “Twenty-Ninth Amendment” (there is also a proposed 28th). Of course, at the time, I believed that the Internet censorship implicit in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 could be dealt with by adult-id screening, and the prolonged litigation against COPA (1998) proved that to be mistaken.

I also suggested in that book (different chapter) that full benefits of marriage (especially survivorship, or those benefits that are predicated on the concept of one partner supporting another) be (for a couple of two previously unrelated adults) predicated on their being at least one third party in the family (usually a child, but maybe an elderly parent or disabled relative) who was economically dependent on the couple. I also suggested that an individual be able to use a marriage benefit for only one relationship in a lifetime (George Gilder’s “one to a customer” rationing concept applied to marriage). I got mixed comments on this idea, even from the legal community.

According to the CNN poll, about half of those polled favored parity benefit for gay couples, but usually with a “civil union” concept. Most were uncomfortable with the word “marriage” in same-sex couples.

(3) Allow adoption and foster care for children, based on otherwise applicable fitness factors for the prospective parent. A few states do not allow gays to adopt or become foster parents; many allow gay singles to do so but not as couples.

It is becoming increasingly evident, as demographic changes work through – lower birth rates among the more affluent and longer life spans, and longer periods of disability in some people – that sharing of personal hardships and ability to become the breadwinners (if not “protectors”) for others – old fashioned values from decades ago – are becoming important values again, very difficult to discuss cleanly in today’s political and legal scene. The debate over gay marriage has taken a subtle turn – from one over equality (which social conservatives know they cannot win) to one about restoring older ideas of socialization and family loyalty. But this can be translated back into a debate over “responsibility for others.” One problem would often occur in the 90s concerned people without families being expected to cover (sometimes without compensation) on-call duties for persons with kids, who sometimes did not want to be reminded that they were being “lowballed.” Lamda Legal would often argue about “equal pay for equal work” and remark that some employers took advantage of getting “singles at a discount.”

As I will note on some upcoming blog entries, sometimes I have been challenged in certain job or personal situations to act like an authority figure or role model. My feelings about that are generally out of scope here, but it is much easier to fit into that role (as with teaching) if the “government” acknowledges my legal and social equality in the areas noted above.

"Equality" to some (straight) people defeats what they perceive as the heart of their lives: a specialized communal meaning given to what they do in "marriage." But a lot of that has to do with family responsibility and the idea that it really is not completely voluntary. Maybe strengthening filial responsibility laws at the same time as support same-sex unions and child rearing (given the need for adoptive parents) actually makes practical sense.

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