The controversial initiative to establish city-wide support for same-sex domestic partnership rights will not be reconsidered by the Board of Aldermen this year. After failing to pass before the board last year, some members of the board had planned to reintroduce the proposed resolution, but last week decided not to do so. Although we support marriage between same-sex partners, and by extension strongly oppose any constitutional amendment establishing otherwise, we wholeheartedly endorse the aldermen’s decision not to revive the problematic domestic partnership initiative.
The terms of the debate have changed so dramatically that an endorsement of domestic partnership rights for gay couples would mean next to nothing. And if the proposal were to fail again this year, it could be a considerable setback for the movement. Opponents could point to the liberal and progressive city of New Haven — and its failure to garner support for even the most watered-down rights for homosexuals — and use it as proof that the nation is not ready for marriage between same sex partners.
In fact, the domestic partnership initiative was somewhat misguided from the start. Domestic partners have significantly fewer rights than married partners, and to establish domestic partnerships as an alternative to marriage for homosexual couples would be to establish a separate class of citizens; as history has taught us before, separate generally translates to “unequal.” Additionally, while the goal of the aldermen was noble, the fight for marriage rights belongs to the states and the courts, not to individual cities.
But the decision not to bring the proposal before the board does not mean the battle is over. Nor does it mean that there is no place for city-by-city civil rights movements. The actions of mayors from San Francisco to New Paltz, N.Y., have shown that while the debate cannot be decided in the nation’s cities, it can be galvanized and energized there. People in those cities, and people in this one, must continue to lobby for rights at the state and national levels. Locally, we hope that New Haven’s Project Orange, which mobilized in support of the domestic partnership amendment, rechannels its energies and resources into the larger movement. Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman increases the urgency of the fight.
Even if we manage to see past the hate that must motivate such homophobic legislation, we can’t find any sound reason in the arguments for it. Is marriage between a man and a woman “the most enduring human institution,” as Bush would have us believe? Anthropological evidence refutes that point, as well as the argument one man and one woman is the “natural” familial unit. Ultimately, we cannot come to any conclusion beyond that Bush’s proposed amendment is motivated by fear — fear of losing re-election perhaps, or more distressingly, fear of a group of people who are perceived to be fundamentally less worthy of their rights.
The aldermen’s decision not to reintroduce the proposed resolution is emblematic of an ever more heated and politicized debate. Every generation has its battles, and this has become one of the most important of ours. We urge members of this community to ensure that discrimination does not get written into the Constitution. We don’t consider that demand to be unreasonable — all we ask is that we all commit ourselves to the essential cause of ensuring that every citizen in this country is assured of the same basic civil rights.