Was the wording of the New Jersey Supreme Court decision on gay marriage a deliberate attempt to create an industry of litigation, guaranteeing a steady stream of income–mostly in taxpayer dollars–for lawyers and state and federal courts over the next few years? It's an interesting, albeit conspiracy theory-ish question.
The mandate from Jersey's highest court was clear: call it what you will, but provide the same rights for same sex couples that are provided to married opposite sex couples. But the "call it what you will" notion, as simple as it seemed is clearly going to drive dozens if not hundreds of court cases in the months and years to come.
Language is a thorny matter and not as simple as we often pretend. Consider the recent media circus over Michael Richards. Even though the meaning is clear and it's obvious what's being said, in our minds there is clearly a vast world of difference in power and impact between "the N word" and "what it stands for and we're not supposed to say."
Paula Zahn can say "the N word" on CNN until her roots turn black, but she wouldn't dare says "the N word."
Now that we're faced with the result and reality of the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision: a civil union law; the difference between calling it "marriage" and calling it a "civil union" is not less meaningful, no less impactful and even more complicated than the difference between using "the N word" and the actual word that we're not allowed to say.
At one end of the spectrum, gay men and women are demeaned and insulted by "civil union." Furthermore, American history teaches us the specious notion of "separate but equal" is simply ridiculous.
At the the other end of the spectrum "civil union" is neither morally, ethically or legally equal to marriage. "What you call it" matters greatly. Will federal and out-of-state employers, insurance companies and other institutions that automatically provide benefits and protections for married couples provide equal respect and recognition to civil unions? Maybe, maybe not. In social and business situations, will couples united in a civil union be afforded the same respect and accommodations afforded married couples? Who can tell? Of course, they can lie and claim to be married; but how sad is that? It hearkens back to the days when gay men and women would travel as best friends, check into hotels separately and then sneak into each other's rooms under cover of darkness.
We can argue semantics and play word games until we're lavender in the face, but the reality is that a simple word diminishes same-sex couples to second class citizens and all that entails.
While New Jersey's spanking new civil union law may seem like a major advance in the cause of American civil rights, it is actually nothing more than a sad and tired replay of the the old Jim Crow laws.
Every American should be embarrassed by this and none of us should be celebratory. Well, except for the lawyers. They'll profit mightily from this as gay couples begin to face the reality of this discriminatory and unconstitutional law.
And for those of you who think this is a "step in the right direction." No, it is not. It's a diversionary tactic and no more a step in the right direction than the institution of racial segregation.Powered by Sidelines