By Seth Richardson
With the overturning of California’s Proposition 8 by federal Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, the issue of gay marriage has come again to the forefront of the news. Along with fundamental right to marry endowed by Judge Walker comes more questions about the nature of civil marriage and what it means. In March 2009, I penned the following column in response to a letter to the editor by a state representative on the issue of gay marriage. My arguments remain the same, and now they have a stronger legal basis thanks to Judge Walker, so it’s appropriate to update the arguments.
In his guest commentary, State Rep. Bob Gardner (R), District 21, says he is concerned about allowing people to designate their legal beneficiaries for things like worker’s compensation, public pensions, standing for wrongful death lawsuits and estate issues. He claims that the provisions of House Bill 1260 are “fraught with both fiscal and legal implications that were glossed over by the bill’s proponents and by The Gazette.”
Significantly, he fails to mention what any of those “implication” might be, and why we would be “fraught” with them. Such obfuscation is typical of politicians, and we, the people, should not allow them to get away with it. So tell us please, Rep. Gardner, exactly what “implications” are we to be “fraught” with if the bill passes? Please be extremely specific. Write to me and I’ll post it here in my column. We can even debate it if you like.
But before you do that, please take this into consideration: These rights are recognized for spouses and blood relations already, and there is little debate about their propriety. So what exactly, Rep. Gardner, is wrong with allowing people who do not have spouses or blood relations to designate another person or persons to benefit from the pensions and awards that they have earned? It’s their pension, it’s their worker’s compensation award, it’s their estate and their life. By what right does the State of Colorado disenfranchise single persons from the benefits that accrue to married persons? That does not seem like equal protection of the law to me.
A single man or woman with no immediate family, like myself, ought to have a right to designate whomever he or she chooses to receive benefits we have earned and are entitled to enjoy. We have a right to have someone stand for us and sue for damages if we are wrongfully killed, and we have a right to designate someone to receive our estate when we die. Dying intestate means that distant relatives we may have no relationship with could overrule our intent and instructions and wrongfully seize our estates that we might wish to be distributed to close friends whom we consider our “family by choice.”
This has nothing to do with homosexuality, Rep. Gardner. There are many millions of single people who have no blood relations they care to acknowledge or give legal authority over their lives, but who have families that they have adopted, or have been adopted into, informally, as a matter of love and companionship. I have a “family by choice” who have accepted me as an uncle to their children and a brother to the parents. This family is far more loving, supportive and real than any of my blood relations ever were. Why should I not have a right to designate them as the beneficiaries of my estate and grant to them the right to make decisions about my life, should I be incapacitated? I would like to be able to assign any benefits I may have coming for the benefit of their children. Why should I be denied this right?
Not only should people like us be legally entitled to assign our earned benefits to whomever we choose, we should be allowed to announce and record our new voluntary familial relationship and effectively divorce ourselves from our blood relatives if we choose to do so.
It’s not all about gay rights you see, Rep. Gardner. It’s about ordinary people who don’t necessarily live the nuclear family dream wanting to find some happiness and love in life. Not everyone has a happy family and those of us who are lucky enough to find a new family that we can be part of, with whom we can share the relationships, intimacy and love that we have either been denied or have excluded ourselves from for good and justifiable reasons, in all justice and equity ought to be permitted to make the bond with our new relations official and legal, just as if we were blood relations.
With the rejection of California’s Proposition 8 in the federal courts, the proper place of the government in regulating domestic relationships between consenting adults is brought into focus, not just as it applies to gays, but as it applies to any adults who wish to form a legally-recognized domestic relationship.
What’s needed is for the government, at all levels, to get out of the marriage business entirely, striking the word “marriage” from all statutes and replacing it with the phrase “domestic partnership contract.” Further, the government, at all levels, should cease to regulate such relationships and should become nothing more than the public recorder for any and all contracts of domestic partnership that any competent, consenting adults wish to enter into.
If “marriage” is, as Judge Walker says, a “fundamental right” based on due process and equal justice precepts because it is an essential element of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then it should be beyond the authority of any government agent to interfere in such relationships in any way.