Dear Baby Boomers,
The biggest difference between a civil union and a marriage is psychological. The quotations around "husband" aren't always something you can hear when I say it (I'll alternate with "partner" sometimes if I feel like it's an extended conversation that might lead to an opportunity to explain our civil union) but the fact is, we're not married. *I* know it every time I call him my husband. We have a second class union, one which costs us money this time of year. The federal tax benefits reserved for marriage don't apply to us; we have to file the same way we did when we were single. It's also a constant reminder that society does not value our relationship the same way it would if we were married. We're not technically spouses, we're partners. There's a great deal of emotional weight behind the word "married", and the way I felt after I got married the first time was subtly different from the way I felt after I divorced and then formed a civil union, even though the love I share with my partner now is exponentially more healthy and mature than my first marriage ever was.
There's also the issue of spousal benefits. Not all companies offer them to civil union partners. No branches of the armed forces offer them, and no federal employees have them either. Think about that for just a second. The gay or lesbian soldier who dies for you dies knowing that the love of their life will receive no grief counseling, and no survivor's benefits. Our soldiers abroad, even the ones who live in states that allow civil unions or who traveled hundreds of miles to get to a state where gay marriage is allowed, put their lives at risk every day with that knowledge. Heck, as little as two years ago, they were dishonorably discharged if they were "discovered".
We think of that, in our civil unions. That even this second rate status is something that people have had to claw and fight for. That there are many adults living today who get hate mail from their grandparents and parents because of who they love. They have almost certainly lost friends, and some must still hide who they are in order to keep their jobs. There are people who are no longer with us today because they have been murdered, or driven to suicide by relentless bullying. All of that weight is the backing and the frame for our civil union certificates. It's emotional. It's heavy. We don't hang them on our walls, they hang on our hearts.
And I'd apologize for the novel, but I can't really, because I'm excited that you asked. It's so important that people whose lives aren't directly impacted by this issue understand why we march in the streets and what exactly the words "gay agenda" mean. It's not an effort to "turn kids gay" (if anyone understands how immoral and utterly disgusting that would be, it's people who are familiar with the methods used to try to "cure" homosexuality). It's an effort to make the world a better place for those kids, adolescents, and adults who have feelings that a frighteningly large portion of our society judges as evil. Civil unions are a stepping stone to the other side of the bank, but they aren't the same thing as standing on that far shore where love is seen as love and there is no resentment or bigotry attached to it by anyone.
I hope I live to see that day, and questions like yours help make my heart leap just a little.
So thank you for asking. Sincerely, thank you.