Responsible Civil Unions
Very often in politics its not what you say, but how you say it. Same sex unions are a very divisive topic. The Right seems to see it as something a kin to the issue of pornography or prostitution, as something they don’t want in their backyard. The Left sees it as a civil rights issue. The Right pictures Castro St. and South beach when they think about the issue. The Left thinks of a couple of suburban lesbians raising an adopted child.

In general politicians on both side would like to avoid talking about it, since the side that talks about it the most, loses the most votes very often. I think a good suggestion for the Left on this issue would be never mention unions or rights, without the word “responsibility”. Many on the Right think that the issue is about giving unearned rights, liberties, privileges, etc, to irresponsible individuals. Therefore the Left needs to say “responsible” in connection with this as many times as possible.

If asked what “responsible” means, one could answer that dissolving a civil union should be as difficult as divorce, and importantly, anywhere that adultery laws apply, they should apply to civil unions too. These unions should be monogamous. In addition, all the other responsibilities of marriage should apply too. Rights come with responsibilities.

But would same sex couples want to be monogamous? Studies show that the average co-habitating lesbian couple is more monogamous than the average co-habitating heterosexual couple, but less monogamous than the average married couple. There is no reason to suppose that those lesbian couples that would choose to form a union, would be any less monogamous than married heterosexual couples. Gay male couples on average are less monogamous, however. There are many monogamous gay male couples, but they do not represent a majority. However, we need to keep in mind that there is self-selection involved in which couples would be applying for these unions. Marriage is about monogamy. It is for couples that want to live in a monogamous relationship to strengthen those bonds. The same sex couples that would want to take on the rights and also the responsibilities associated with marriage would, for the most part, be those that have the intention of remaining monogamous.

But what if one believes gay men may be more likely to abuse the these unions? Why should we open it up to them? We should make sure it is available to those who do wish to be monogamous. We can not hold individuals responsible for others in a group. Secondly, marriage, with its legal and financial commitments, encourages monogamy. But for unconvinced conservatives - I have a suggestion that I do not actually advocate, but which may appeal to some. The courts have ruled that we can not regulate adult consensual sex, outside of marriage. Sodomy laws have been struck down nationwide, and fornication laws are struck down when they are tested. (Most recently in Georgia). However, once you enter into the contract of marriage, the government can play a role in enforcing the contract. Adultery laws are not unconstitutional. One would therefore assume that one could make extra-marital sodomy illegal, even if it is not today. This is my reading of Kennedy's Lawrence decision. This would provide couples with a clear choice - either stay single, and have legal sex with as many people as you like, or marry and accept the rights and responsibilities of marriage, including that fact that extra-marital sex is illegal. See existing state laws here:

The Left should also be careful to respect religious freedom. It should be clear that this is not about what churches do. The church must be able to decide for itself who it will marry. The Left should also be careful about issues involving teaching children. Religious conservatives have a right to teach their children that same-sex relationships are wrong. It is good to teach tolerance in schools, but in practice it may be difficult to draw the line between respect for the views of others and tolerance, and outright advocacy. "It may be wrong for you, but that does not mean it is wrong for others", is a difficult concept to teach.

In short I think a lot of the much recently discussed “values gap” is a perceived “responsibility gap”, and the Left should be careful to advocate liberty and responsibility together. The Left should also respect religious freedom.

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