In his weekly column at the Denver Archdiocese website, Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated the death of state Senator Pat Steadman’s same-sex civil unions bill. He said the bill was not about civil rights but about “securing legitimacy for personal behaviors that most societies and religious traditions have found problematic.” He listed the names and addresses of the six Judiciary Committee Republicans who voted to kill the bill and asked Catholics to contact the lawmakers and thank them.
Opponents of the bill were not bigots or haters, he wrote, they had just “carefully thought through the implications for society at large.”
[T]he civil unions debate is not about ensuring the basic rights of homosexual persons. Those rights are already guaranteed under law. Nor is it finally about love or personal equality. Civil unions ensure neither of these any better than marriage does.
The civil unions debate is finally about securing legitimacy for social arrangements and personal behaviors that most societies and religious traditions have found problematic from long experience—and that a great many people see as morally troubling, not because they are “haters” or “frightened” or “bigots” or “uneducated”—that kind of language is the real bigotry in this debate—but because they’ve carefully thought through the implications for society at large.
Senate Bill 172, quite shrewdly, did not limit its definition of “civil unions” to same-sex couples. But same-sex couples would inevitably be the main beneficiaries—as was obvious even at the committee hearings. It’s also worth noting that in every state where civil unions have become law, the political pressure for “gay marriage” has not declined; it has increased. Same-sex unions, whatever legal form they take, cannot create new life. They cannot duplicate the love of a man and woman. But they do copy marriage and family, and in the process, they compete with and diminish the uniquely important status of both.
Unfortunately, we’ve been down this road before. In 2006, Coloradans statewide voted strongly in favor of traditional marriage and against domestic partnerships. The people of Colorado spoke quite clearly. But it wasn’t what certain interests wanted to hear. This is why the civil unions issue will likely be back, whether Coloradans like it or not. One of the lessons we need to learn from California’s continuing Proposition 8 battle is that when it comes to the cultural struggle over marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships, the “will of the people” is rarely sovereign. On the contrary: The mass media, the courts and aggressive special interests treat an annoying popular vote as not much more than modeling clay that needs to be reworked.
As the media has reported in depth, the civil unions bill would have granted a slew of rights not presently available to gay people, especially rights that seek to protect families. The bill would have established, for example, alimony and child support and visitation rights in cases where relationships between same-sex adult parents and partners dissolved. It would have protected gay couples from being forced to testify against each other in court. It also would have made it illegal to deny partners to a civil union health insurance and survivor benefits.
What’s more, benefits enjoyed by straight couples and presently accessible to gay couples, like the power to make medical decisions and inherit property, come with a high price tag in attorney fees for gay couples and can be confusing to authorities at hospitals, for example, who can be forgiven for not understanding power of attorney arrangements.
As many have argued, ballot box votes that strip U.S. citizens of equal rights, the right to marry as much as the right to buy property or vote or bear arms, for example, are unconstitutional. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution explicitly establishes equal rights among citizens as a top priority of the U.S. government. The Constitution says nothing explicit about the government’s obligation to safeguard marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Courts in states across the country have been slowly dismantling voter-passed laws barring gay people from marrying. The Obama Administration recently announced it would no longer defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges.