Same-Sex Wedding Bell Blues

Is legalizing marriage the best answer for same-sex couples?

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This year may be showdown time for legalizing gay and lesbian marriages. With a favorable court decision expected this year, or next, in Hawaii, the door opens for the lady (other states follow suit and legalize same-sex marriage) or the tiger (states then ban same-sex marriages). But even though legalization may be imminent, many gays and lesbians resist the right to wed that has already been won in several European countries.

Legalizing marriage may mean 'the end of domestic partnership benefits,' predicts Nancy Polikoff in Ms. (May/June 1995). Many who've fought for domestic partnership benefits -- now offered in 35 municipalities and scores of private organizations -- believe that keeping and expanding the notion of domestic partnerships is much preferable to pressing for marriage. Melinda Paras of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force sees partnerships as crucial to forming 'a broader definition of families. Domestic partners shouldn't have to be gay or lesbian. They shouldn't have to be having sex. They can be two adults sharing a home and sharing commitment, responsible to each other.'

On the other hand, marriage fans argue that in the here and now, marriage clearly outshines domestic partnerships both on practical and emotional levels. As a number of documents note on the Partners Task Force for Gay & Lesbian Couples Web site, marriage automatically confers parental and economic gains way beyond the scope of any existing domestic partnership. Partners co-director Demian says the majority of gays and lesbians are in long-term relationships and most want to be married, just like everybody else. 'As gays and lesbians we miss out on the rituals and ceremonies that support and affirm our families,' notes one pro-marriage suburban gay family man in Out (May 1995).

Clearly, there's lots of sentiment to make same-sex unions very much marriage-like. In the past decade, thousands of couples have gotten hitched in secular or religious ceremonies. 'The world's only gay and lesbian wedding fair' sold out in Chicago this year, reports Off Our Backs (April 1995).

While the marriage debate continues, a few feel that the solution will not be an either/or proposition. Paras foresees a time when marriage is legalized and partnership practices are also greatly expanded. Then 'we'll be in a whole other place about the definition of family, and gay marriage may become almost irrelevant.'