Compromise & Collateral Damage

There’s something that’s been bugging me as I’ve been blogging about the plight of Laurel Hester and Stacey Andree — the lesbian New Jersey law enforcement officer dying of lung cancer, and her partner Stacey Andree who will lose their home because county officials refuse to approve domestic partnership benefits that would help her keep it by getting Hester’s pension benefits. (Sorry for the repetition but I’m including the background in case anyone’s just hearing about this for the first time.)

I hadn’t mentioned it before because I was focused on just getting the word out about their story, and also because wasn’t sure just how to put it. But I posted the previous update to my DailyKos diary, and a commenter put it perfectly.

remember this, come election time. I’m faced with the same situation down the road, and I’d like to think by the time I have to appear in front of a court (I’m still a youngin’, by comparison) that our society will have changed enough to prevent this kind of embarrassment from happening again. And again. And again.

Stories like this, by the way, are why gays and lesbians crumble inside every time a Democrat neglects to take a strong stand on gay and lesbian issues. Please be patient when we fly off the handle at our elected officials, or we’ll point you back to this story.

Exactly. This is part of the human cost of compromise. The NJ domestic partnership bill was watered down to give cities and counties an easy out and keep conservatives happy. In places like Ocean County, NJ the domestic partnership statute is worthless. It was compromised into worthlessness. Sure, some counties and cities have DP benefits, but it doesn’t do Hester and Andree a damn bit of good.

The New York Blade puts it pretty well too.

In many ways, Hester is the victim of a numbers game and a Legislature that dropped the ball when it came up with laws to protect same-sex couples. The problems of Hester echo what advocates have been saying for years: marriage for same-sex partners is the only answer.

“Most importantly, this is not an isolated incident,” Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality said in e-mail. “There are other cases of registered same-sex domestic partners being denied domestic partnership benefits. Together, these cases demonstrate why thousands of New Jerseyans, LGBTI and straight alike, are fighting for marriage equality. Marriage is the only currency of commitment that the real world consistently accepts.”

It’s worth repeating. “Marriage is the only currency of commitment that the real world consistently accepts.” The Hester case has me thinking again about the viability of civil unions and the “make it equal but don’t call it marriage” argument. I’m leaning towards thinking that the former really isn’t viable and the latter really doesn’t hold water.

I’m starting to think that creating a category separate from marriage automatically makes it vulnerable to be whittled down to something less than marriage. People know what marriage is, and they’re unlikely to make it anything less than it is, but they can make civil unions up as they go along and end up making it something like marriage — but something less. And that especially likely to happen when heterosexual couples start seeking access to civil unions, as they have with domestic partnerships, and civil unions are potentially seen as a threat to marriage because they offer an alternative to marriage for people who already have the right to marry. The more I think about it, the more I think Jonathan Rauch may have been on the mark when he made that point in Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. It’s possible that civil unions and the like not only weaken marriage, but weaken any chance we have at equality.

I’m also starting to think that stories like this one underscore the inherent weakness in the argument that "it’s a state issue." New Jersey dropped the ball, and now at best there’s patchwork protection in the state, but still with plenty of holes for couples like Hester an Andree to fall through.

Project that nationally, and you just get patchier protection on a larger scale, putting same-sex couples and their families in the position of having their rights and protections changing everytime they cross state lines. It’s like I pointed out before.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships, the article points out, might not help, because they don’t necessarily apply outside of the state where they ioriginate. If you’re gay, coupled and traveling in this “free” country of ours, you’d better have your papers (medical powers of attorney, advance directive, wills, adoption decrees, etc.) with you.

… Married heterosexuals, however, only need their word and the rings on their fingers, most of the time.

Patchwork protection is really no protection at all most of the time.

Just remember that when folks advocate compromise or or a “go slow” approach to equality, it means there are going to be more stories like this one, and precious little anyone can do about it. Cow-towing to conservative voters, positioning themselves just slightly to the left of folks like the freeholders might get more Dems elected. Whether they’ll be able to get back to equality issues without losing the support of their new conservative constituents remains to be seen. But it’s almost certain that it won’t happen in time to help couples like Hester and Andree. There may just not be any help for them.

They are just collateral damage

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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2 Responses to Compromise & Collateral Damage

  1. Mark says:

    Wow …

    I’ve always been a supporter of the "call-them-civil-unions" compromise because I thought it was the best solution. This, however, has opened up an angle I never thought of before: it’s similar to the "separate but equal" philosophy during racial segregation.

    And we all know how that turned out.

    Thanks for the eye-opener.

  2. Terrance says:

    Yeah. I’m still thinking through this one. It just seems to me that making it separate is step one in making is less than equal.

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