Civil Liberties

Hook for the Union Label


In a New York Times op-ed piece, prominent gay marriage opponent David Blankenhorn teams up with prominent gay marriage advocate (and Reason contributor) Jonathan Rauch to suggest a compromise: federal recognition of same-sex "civil unions," tied to state and federal protections for religious organizations that choose not to recognize such unions. Federal recognition would confer advantages such as "Social Security survivor benefits, tax-free inheritance, spousal immigration rights and protections against mutual incrimination." Meanwhile, Blankenhorn and Rauch argue, the "religious conscience" exception would reassure social conservatives who worry they will be compelled to recognize and accommodate domestic arrangements that offend their moral values.

It seems to me this proposal moves in the right direction: toward evenhanded legal treatment of gay and heterosexual unions and, ultimately, getting the government out of the "marriage" business altogether. Let private institutions decide what constitutes a marriage (as they did through most of human history), with the government's role confined to enforcing contracts and policing the various legal prerogatives currently associated with civil marriage.

Last week I noted that Utah's governor has endorsed same-sex civil unions, a development that suggests Blankenhorn and Rauch's plan is not completely unrealistic. In a December column, I urged distinguishing between public and private treatment of gay unions, a principle that jibes with their proposal.