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On a Deadline

Colleen Coover

The fight for equal marriage rights here took several significant lurches forward before stalling out in the Washington State Supreme Court. After two lower courts ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, our Supremes heard arguments in March 2005—and they have been mulling the issue over ever since. Predicting a due date for the decision has become a fantasy sport for gay wonks. This week's whispers of "Any minute!" give way to next week's gossip about the court's impossible deadlock.

Well, we've had enough. It's time for the court to put up or shut up. Therefore, I propose Initiative 96, or the Civil Union Instigation Act. This measure would set a deadline for the Washington State Supreme Court to hand down its decision on equal marriage rights—January 1, 2007—and if no decision is released by that date, civil unions would immediately go into effect.

Seeing the words "civil" and "union" anywhere near each other is enough to send gay-marriage supporters into a rage. "Did we learn nothing from 'separate but equal'?" they cry. They're right—civil unions are inferior to marriage in every possible way. Civil unions confer no immigration benefits, to cite one example, no Social Security or veteran death benefits, to cite two others. Here are a few more: no family income-tax breaks, and, unlike marriage, civil unions are not portable (meaning one state is not obligated to recognize civil unions entered into in another state). But there comes a time when the perfect must give way to the good, and on January 1, 2007, the perfection that would be gay marriage must either be realized, or the good that is civil unions must be enacted.

If you're a gay man or woman who wants to build a life with a same-sex partner, a civil union can offer some of the protections of marriage (with double the paperwork and one-fourth the benefits, but still). In Vermont and Connecticut, two states that have them, civil unions bring certain spousal benefits—tax equality (state taxes, not federal), next-of-kin privileges, landowner rights, and inclusion in "the definition of [a] family farmer." As for portability, with so many states passing anti-gay-marriage amendments to their state constitutions, Washington State's gay marriages, if we won that right, wouldn't be portable either.

Embracing civil unions might bring a new ally to the side of oppressed same-sex couples: straight couples that reject traditional marriage for its immoral exclusion of same-sexers and/or the oppressive stink of God and property. These progressive straights would be grateful for the opportunity to secure their relationships without partaking in antigay bigotry or Godly nonsense, and they could join the gays in showing the world that recognizing nontraditional marriage does not bring about the end of civilization.

Of course the battle can be avoided if our Supreme Court grants full marriage rights to same-sex couples by January 1, 2007. If not, it's time for civil unions, in all their crappy, separate-but-unequal, back-of-the-bus glory. And to those who balk at the back of the bus, remember: Rosa Parks never could've refused to give up her seat if she hadn't been allowed on the damn bus in the first place.