March 12, 2010

Don't split the difference on same-sex marriage

— There are issues on which both sides can split the difference and come away with a deal that everyone can live with.

At this point, same-sex marriage is not one of them.

State Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, has admirably tried to bridge the gap between people who want to extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples and those who do not.

His solution, a package of rights that married couples now enjoy assembled under another name for same-sex couples, is one that will satisfy neither side. The measure is well-intentioned, but would provide an unnecessary distraction in the midst of an already intense public-policy debate.

A domestic partnership law is the wrong place to start the discussion. Those who object to the state applying family law norms to same-sex relationships see it as a way to sneak gay marriage into the law books.

Those who support same-sex marriage view it as a less-than-equal legal status that does not carry one of the most important benefits of marriage -- its universal recognition.

In a school, hospital or courthouse, everyone understands the family relationship of marriage and the rights that go with it. A new institution with an unfamiliar name would not have the same weight.

We support full marriage rights for same-sex couples because we believe it they are entitled to equal protection under the law. Marriage is the best building block for stable, supportive families, and families led by same-sex couples should have same legal rights and obligations as those led by heterosexual couples.

Obviously, others disagree.

But a discussion of marriage equality is the public-policy debate that we should be having. It is not something that should be sidestepped with a preemptive compromise.

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