Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton won praise in June after pushing to extend many federal benefits traditionally provided to diplomats’ spouses to gay and lesbian partners.
Since then, unmarried heterosexual couples have been lining up to ask for benefits too. They have approached the State Department’s personnel office and the diplomats’ union, arguing that they are entitled to equal treatment. At least one couple has threatened to challenge the rules in court as discriminatory.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for policy on federal workers, is weighing such an extension of benefits, U.S. officials say — to the consternation of conservatives.
This is predictable. If same sex couples cannot marry, then “marriage-light” policies have to be created for same-sex couples. But why should “marriage-light” policies exclude heterosexual couples?
Marriage laws, fundamentally, are how we turn someone unrelated to us, into our legally recognized closest relative in the world. I don’t think that purpose is undermined by opening marriage lite provisions to straight couples.1 However, there’s no doubt that conservatives who oppose equality for gay people do see marriage lite laws as diluting marriage, which makes it ironic that their actions make the continued growth of marriage lite arrangements inevitable.
In somewhat related news, the DC group Full Equality Now! has walked back its initial opposition to anti-gay ads on public buses (which they now say was just a draft), after the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and the ACLU stood up for the free speech rights of anti-gay groups. Good for GLAA and the ACLU, and good for FEN! for being willing to back off their mistake (even if they did it a little ungracefully).
- Although I can see a disadvantage to having a multiplicity of marriage and marriage-lite laws; the more such laws there are, the less they will be universally understood, which makes them less useful. [↩]