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    Gravy as food and metaphor

    There isn’t a chance in the world that anyone reading this site doesn’t also check Samizdata frequently, but for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a great post up about what has become one of my least favorite subjects. While I’m watching Columbo and trying to decide whether lunch will be broiled chicken with way too much pan gravy or chicken paprikash (sp.? I’ve only heard my Polish-American great aunts say it) with way too much sour cream, I’ll add just a few comments to what David Carr wrote.

    He’s talking about British, not American, law; but I think that what he says about the relationships among custom, law, and behavior applies States-side, also. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes the gay marriage proponents have made is insisting on limiting to homosexual couples the extensions of benefits. Domestic partner benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the use of enduring power of attorney are certainly issues that affect our relationships; however, we aren’t the only unmarried people who may need to think about them. If two relatives or lifelong friends want to take responsibility for each other’s welfare and are willing to do so officially and exclusively…well, why shouldn’t they be able to, using much the same argument we use in favor of benefits for gays? Some people have crazy next-of-kin whom they can’t trust when wide awake, much less while comatose. Others have simply formed bonds in their adult lives with people who would more respect their wishes than their blood relatives. As long as the content of the contract is clear, why not push to bundle these things into the kind of civil union in which who sleeps in which bed isn’t an issue?

    When this point is raised by critics, those arguing for gay marriage say that if anyone and everyone can randomly assign a domestic partner at will, things will get so chaotic that no one will be able to keep track of who gets what (more chaotic than our current era of no-fault divorce and no-father childrearing?). Or they bring up love and commitment, which I hadn’t been aware was impossible between distant cousins sharing a non-romantic household.

    I understand the emotional issue here. When people ask why gay couples should qualify for benefits that roommates don’t, many of them–not all, but many–are not-so-slyly taking the opportunity to dismiss our relationships as meaningless. That’s nasty, and it hurts, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have a policy point.

    Or a point about human nature. I believe that most of those on our team sincerely don’t want to force people to approve of our relationships in the sense of going out of their way to be congratulatory–that they just don’t want us to be prevented from providing for each other when we most need it. But forcing people to bracket together recognition of, say, hospital visitation rights and gay partnerships moves the issue into muddy territory in which even good-hearted people will feel as if they’re being shaken down for sympathy. That’s neither a logical nor emotionally astute way to get people on your side.

    2 Responses to “Gravy as food and metaphor”

    1. There are occasional instances of laws that do this. For instance, Australia is one of the few countries that allows gay partners of Australian citizens to immigrate to Australia.
      Except that by its wording, the law doesn’t refer to gay partners, but refers to people in an “interdependent relationship” with an Australian citizen. This usually means (and was intended to usually mean) a gay partner, but it can be interpreted in a broader sense than this in the way you discuss.
      All this is actually a separate category of immigration to the “spouse visa” category, which is restricted to heterosexual partners (but which, again unusually, does not require you to actually be married).

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I didn’t know that about Australian spousal visas–the not having to be married part, I mean. Interesting. I think that, based on their current arguments, a lot of gay marriage proponents would complain that the designation “interdependent relationship” makes us sound like lichens or volvox colonies. Well, they might not put it that way, but they’d call it “dehumanizing.” It’s a shame that, in the US, so much energy is being diverted into building ramshackle arguments that heterosexual and homosexual relationships have to be treated exactly the same in every finicking detail, but that’s the way it is.
      (BTW, the TrackBack seems to have gone through twice, even after I made a point of asking MT not to do that. You might want to delete one.)