One of the things that’s interesting in the whole discussion about the various legal statuses that may or may not be applied to same-sex couples is the question of just who else they may or may not apply to. For example, if you establish a reciprocal beneficiaries status that’s available to same-sex couples, and other eligible adults who are interdependent relationships but for some reason can not marry, should unmarried heterosexual couples be eligible as well? If they’re not, is that discrimination?
One woman in Washington state thinks so, and she’s filing a civil rights suit.
The complaint, filed last week, is one of four that have spawned full-fledged investigations under the sexual orientation section of Washington’s antidiscrimination law.
It was signed by Sandi Scott-Moore, a Redmond-based employee of manufacturer Honeywell International. Scott-Moore claims health insurance coverage for her male partner was denied because the unmarried couple is not of the same gender.
…The measure was aimed squarely at protecting Washington’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents. But its language is broader, banning any discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Joseph Fuiten, chairman of the conservative Faith and Freedom Network, said opponents of the gay rights measure predicted scenarios such as the Honeywell-related complaint.
“(Gays and lesbians) basically said, ‘Treat us fair, treat us the same as everybody else,”‘ Fuiten said. “I don’t know how you’re going to get around treating heterosexuals the same.”
… Jennifer Pizer, a lawyer for the gay-rights firm Lambda Legal, said similar cases have been raised elsewhere without much success. But the group generally supports efforts that are aimed at ending discrimination, she said.
“It’s marital status discrimination. You’re telling people, in essence, they will be paid less” because they can’t get the same benefits, Pizer said.
As I mentioned before, this is part of a discussion we’re going to be having for a while, at least among people who agree that same-sex couples should have some (many? most? nearly all?) of the same rights and protections as married couples but disagree on just how (and how soon?) we can accomplish that. If it comes down to fairness, and we start with the assumption that it’s unfair to deny these rights and protections to same-sex couples, is it equally unfair to create a separate legal status for “people who cannot legally marry” — a set of the population which would include same-sex couples among many others — and thus deny those rights and protections to heterosexuals who choose not to marry?
I mentioned earlier what’s happening in Colorado where politics have made strange bedfellows of gay rights organizations and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, as both sides support a bill to establish reciprocal beneficiary status for same-sex couples and others not eligible to marry. Unmarried heterosexuals in the state have said the bill doesn’t go far enough.
The reciprocal beneficiary bill would give a few legal benefits to two unmarried adults who are not eligible to marry each other, such as blood relatives or same-sex couples. Among the protections are rights to hospital visitation, medical decision making, disposition of remains, inheritance without a will, and worker’s compensation survivor benefits.
… Left out of the debate in Hawaii and Vermont, and now Colorado, is the legal status of unmarried heterosexual couples. They have been consistently excluded from the definition of “reciprocal beneficiaries” in these states since they are eligible to marry. They are also excluded from “domestic partnerships” or “civil unions” because they are not gay.
Like it or not, to the scores of opposite-sex couples who are delaying marriage or who would prefer being considered domestic partners rather than spouses, the political message seems apparent: let them eat wedding cake.
God forbid that unmarried heterosexual couples should have a legal option other than marriage.
Have we come to a point at which on one hand we deny same-sex couples the legal option to marry, and on the other we deny unmarried opposite-sex couples the option to choose any other legal status besides marriage? It gets fuzzier if common-law marriage — under which heterosexual couples may qualify as legally married if the live together and “act married” for long enough —is factored in, because it’s only available in 15 states and the District of Columbia, and it’s probably administered differently in each of those states. So, without claim to some legal status, unmarried opposite-sex couples aren’t much better off than same-sex partners in terms of (a) clarity on what their rights and benefits are and (b) the portability of those rights and protections.
Well, except for one thing. Unless they’re legally ineligible because of age or blood relationship, they do have the option to marry even if they choose not to. If it’s unfair to bar them from choosing legal alternatives to marriage, is it unfair to grant them access to those alternatives in addition to the right to marry while restricting same-sex couples only to the legal alternatives and barring them from legally marrying? Why or why not?
It may be a bad analogy but if we are choosing between, say, flavors of ice cream and there are three flavors to choose from, are we basically saying to unmarried heterosexuals “You can only have one flavor,” and to same-sex couples “You can choose from these five, but you can’t have that one”? And if heterosexual couples succeed in legally expanding their options to, say, all six flavors, are we still saying to same-sex couples “They can have any flavor they want, but you’ll have to chose from just these two?”
Is either fair? I don’t know. I’m asking.