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Argument: Civil unions are a reasonable compromise and way forward

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David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch. "A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage." New York Times. February 21, 2009: "Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.

In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief.

But clinging to extremes can also be quite dangerous. In the case of gay marriage, a scorched-earth debate, pitting what some regard as nonnegotiable religious freedom against what others regard as a nonnegotiable human right, would do great harm to our civil society. When a reasonable accommodation on a tough issue seems possible, both sides should have the courage to explore it."

Douglas W. Kmiec. "A proposal for compromise on Prop. 8." San Francisco Chronicle. November 14, 2008: "The governor should break the tie and free the judges from having to either set aside democracy or to uphold the decision of the people in a way that the governor and others would perceive as unequal treatment among his fellow Californians.

The governor has administrative authority to have regulations issued interpreting family law, and nothing in Prop. 8 precludes him from ensuring that homosexual and heterosexual couples are treated equally under state law so long as he stays clear of 'marriage.' This could be accomplished by limiting the state of California prospectively to the issuance of civil unions for all couples, rather than marriage licenses, leaving marriage, which in origin is predominantly a religious concept and not the real business of the state, to religion."

Geoffrey R Stone and A Professor Of Law At The University of Chicago. "Civil-union bill an apt compromise". Chicago Tribune. March 26, 2007: "The issue of gay marriage deeply and emotionally divides the American people. But it is an issue on which compromise is possible. Last week, theHuman Services Committee of the Illinois House of Representatives voted tolegalize civil unions. Illinois should enact this legislation now.

House Bill 1826 is sound legislation because it does not let the perfect bethe enemy of the good. In a well-functioning democracy, we must all strive tosee the world through the eyes of others. We must seek common ground withthose who see the world differently. We must find ways to preserve our ownsense of fairness and justice while respecting the divergent views of others.The civil-union bill exemplifies this spirit of thoughtful compromise.

This legislation will not please everyone. Some people will object that itgoes too far because it legitimates “immoral” relationships that are condemnedby Scripture. Others will object that it does not go far enough because itfails to allow same-sex couples to marry and thus perpetuates “immoral”discrimination against people for no reason other than their sexualorientation.

On the one hand, the bill respects the views of those who sincerely believethat “marriage” must be a relationship between a man and a woman and makesclear that religious denominations that oppose civil unions are not in any wayrequired to recognize or solemnize such relationships. On the other hand, thebill grants same-sex couples who want to commit to long-term relationships thesame basic legal rights and responsibilities that Illinois law now grants toopposite-sex couples. This includes such fundamental matters as medicaldecision-making, joint ownership of property, pension rights, worker’scompensation, health insurance, inheritance, domestic violence and the careand protection of children.

The extension of such rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples isnot only right as a matter of simple justice and human decency, it is alsosound public policy. Ending racial segregation, granting women the right tovote and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender,ethnic origin and disability were not only morally right but also created astronger, more productive and more stable nation. The same is true of thecivil-union legislation. Supporting families is good public policy.

The more difficult issue is that the bill leaves same-sex couples in aposition of second-class citizenship. Civil unions are not recognized as thelegal equivalent of marriage for purposes of federal law and most states donot recognize the validity of civil unions even when they are lawful in thestate in which they were created. What Illinois can do is to treat its owncitizens with respect.

The other objection to the legislation is, of course, that it deniessame-sex couples the dignity of the word “marriage.” It is easy to dismissthis as merely symbolic. But symbols matter. If African-American or Jewishcouples were relegated to civil unions and could not legally call their unionsmarriage, we would readily see the insult and injustice. “A rose by any othername” has its limits. Nonetheless, this is a period of transition, and transition demands compromise."

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