Lesbian Notions – OK, I have to make a confession.

I?m Jewish, so I usually have to just do this once a year – at Yom Kippur – and it?s usually just between me and God. But now seems like as good a time as any to come clean about
something.
For the past few years, as I?ve written about same-sex marriage, I?ve always advocated for our full-fledged nuptials. But in the back of my mind and in private conversations, I would admit that it didn?t matter that much to me what it was called as long as we had all the same rights and responsibilities.
Well, the events in New Jersey since that state?s civil unions law has gone into effect have lead me to conclude…I was wrong!
Take the story of Nickie Brazier, a driver with UPS, who is legally civil-unioned with her partner Heather Aurand in New Jersey. According to the New York Times, Brazier was told Aurand couldn?t be added to her health insurance because they weren?t legally married.
The Times went on to report about Dr. Kevin Slavin, who was able to sign up his partner for the health plan at the hospital where he works. What Slavin didn?t know was that those benefits would be treated as taxable income and that his partner could not collect his pension if Slavin died. Not so for heterosexual married couples.
Clearly, the New Jersey legislature didn?t do its due diligence when writing the civil union law after the state Supreme Court threw the issue to the body, saying we deserved equal treatment under the law, but what to actually call it was up to the lawmakers.
Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (D) has weighed in on the UPS story. He?s asked the worker-owned company (ironic, isn?t it?) to provide the same benefits for civil union partners as it does for married couples. This is the first time Corzine has gotten into the civil unions fray.
According to Garden State Equality, New Jersey?s statewide gay-rights organization, 193 of the 1,359 couples who have registered for civil unions have said their employers would not recognize their new legal bonds. ?Companies are offering a gazillion excuses,? Garden State?s chair, Steven Goldstein told the? New York Times. ?The law says civil union partners should be treated as spouses.?
I don?t know what is clearer than that. But many of New Jersey?s self-insured companies (which account for a whopping 51 percent of the state?s businesses) are hiding behind the skirts of federal law. Some cite the federal Defense of Marriage Act; others use the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, also known as ERISA, which pre-empts state laws and allows self-insured employers to choose how to define ?spouse.?
It makes you wonder what?s going on in New Jersey. The state has a nondiscrimination law. The legislature passed the civil unions law. But business seems only to be looking at the bottom line ? if they don?t have to spend the extra money and eat into their profits, they won?t. How shameful, considering we all know that lesbians and gay men make some of the best employees around, and that we?re loyal – treat us well, and we?ll reciprocate as good employees and loyal consumers.
But New Jersey isn?t the only example of the fallacy of civil union law or enhanced domestic partner law, for that matter. In California – where the domestic partner law, according to the state attorney general, is supposed to convey all the rights and responsibilities of marriage – a lesbian, Melinda Kirkwood, has registered as a domestic partner with her lover, Kristin Kirkwood, yet still collects alimony from her former husband, Ron Garber. Why? ?Cause registering as domestic partners is not seen as the same as marriage. Whoever?s side you take in this matter, the bottom line is that enhanced domestic partner laws don?t cut it either.
As I watched the CNN-YouTube Democratic candidates debate recently ? a technological innovation that I think will probably change political discourse and debate in this country for generations to come – it was clear to me that of the three candidates who answered the same-sex marriage question, only Dennis Kucinich understood our quest for full legal equality. I know that Mike Gravel, the former Watergate-era Democratic senator from Alaska, also gets it. Unfortunately, neither has a chance in hell of getting anywhere.
If I?ve admitted I was wrong, I don?t see why the rest of the Democrats can?t see the forest for the trees on this one. Maybe they need to take the lead from the only real person with courage in the whole presidential mess – Elizabeth Edwards. She?s the face of everywoman – tired from chemo and cancer, yet rallying her energy to do what she needs to do. In this case, it?s campaigning for her presidential wanna-be husband, John Edwards.
All the candidates need to listen to her on this issue. A married, heterosexual woman, with three living children and a husband who stands by her through death and travail, Elizabeth Edwards put it all together when she said the idea that same-sex marriage threatens straight marriage is ?complete nonsense.?
For that matter, so is the notion that civil unions and domestic partnership as we know them are as good as marriage. Hogwash, I say, complete hogwash.
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Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

Libby Post

Libby Post is the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda and a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media.

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