Opinion

Equal rights should be shared by all

TORRENS TALK

It was just a matter of time. Frankly, I am surprised it took this long for the anti-gay folks to gather the troops to rise up in arms against the pending law for domestic partnerships.

In case it has escaped people’s notice, there has been a referendum filed to overturn the new bill pending Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature. The group leading the effort is the Washington Values Alliance and they have until July 25 to gather enough signatures to qualify the referendum for the November ballot.

What is fascinating about all this is that domestic partnerships cover more than same-sex couples. It is a narrow view, to put it mildly, to assume that all heterosexual couples are married. Many heterosexual people choose to live together for quite awhile before making the decision, if ever, to join in matrimony.

This law allows them, along with same-sex pairs, to have the same set of legal rights as those of us who got married. Unless one has had to deal with these inequities, one does not know the depth of discrimination that exists in favor of married people, especially those who share the same last name.

For various reasons, I have spent virtually all of my married life with the name I had growing up. My husband is the same. We did not combine our names, we kept our own. When we decided to buy a house, we had to provide a copy of our marriage certificate to show we were married. The Veterans’ Admin-istration would not allow unmarried people to use a VA loan.

When accessing medical care on behalf of each other, especially when dealing with medical personnel and services that do not know us, we’ve had to provide proof that we are indeed entitled by law to sign for each other.

Over the years, this situation has gotten better as recognition has grown that there are people out there who do not have the requisite piece of paper to show their commitment, but are still committed at all levels to each other. That is initially what brought the issue of domestic partnerships to the fore: heterosexual couples felt discriminated against because they could not get medical insurance, medical access, home loans and other similar things simply because they refused to comply with a social convention.

Now, because of raised awareness of the inherent levels of legal discrimination between marriage and domestic partnerships, Washington state is trying to rectify that with legislation that essentially gives all the same legal rights married couples have to non-married couples. Of course, that now includes those in the gay community who never were allowed to marry in the first place.

And, that is what is pushing the anti-gay folks’ button. The idea that same-sex couples will be treated the same as them. Maybe it is time they read the Constitution, specifically section 1 of the 14th Amendment. This states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Marriage has long since ceased to be the sole purview of religious institutions. People can get married in civil ceremonies without benefit of any clergy and the marriage is valid. In fact, if one wants to end the marriage, the divorce is filed in a secular court, not a religious one, with the exception of those devoutly religious who also will go through the process in their faith community.

And, while religious communities have every right to decide who they want to marry and admit to their faith, not so for government. All citizens are entitled to equal treatment under civil laws. It is past time to end this duality. The domestic partnership bill should be accepted and the referendum shunned.

Val Torrens appears in the CK Reporter the second and fourth Friday of every month.

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