Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Civil Unions: The Radical Choice

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Civil Unions: The Radical Choice

Article excerpt

All the leading Democratic candidate--including Howard Dean--have come out against same-sex marriage, supporting civil unions as a moderate alternative. The great irony is that civil unions aren't actually a moderate choice. On the contrary, they have far more radical implications than gay marriage.

Consider France, which allows gay people to apply for something called a civil solidarity pact. Because this option isn't limited to same-sex couples, it has caught on like wildfire, and as many as half of those who register are straight. (One reason? The pact can be dissolved by either party on three months' notice.) Other European nations have embraced similar arrangements in recognition that many heterosexuals prefer a less binding commitment than marriage. That's true in the United States as well. According to sociologist Andrew Hacker, a third of U.S. women are unmarried at the age of 30. This figure would have astonished our ancestors, but it won't raise the roof on Oprah.

Call it the libertarian approach to family: You follow your heart and let the changes come as they may. Civil unions reflect this climate of choice and flexibility. Ultimately they have less to do with gay fights than with giving all couples a way to codify their relationships--and protect their children--without taking on the full weight of matrimony. Millions of straight couples would take advantage of this alternative ff they could. Rest assured that once civil unions become commonplace, hets will demand to be included--and they ought to be.

Rick Santorum's obsession with polygamy and incest is beside the point. These practices are far too unpopular to push their way under the marriage umbrella. But what about the many seniors who live together and don't want to betray the memory of a dead spouse? How can you say no to a retired couple? It's a question the New Jersey legislature is grappling with as it considers a domestic-partnership law that includes not just gay people but "also the elderly. …

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