There's a discussion going on in BiNet USA's listserv about marriage eqality that's bothering me. Some people say we shouldn't care about calling it marriage or a civil union as long as we have all the same rights. I disagree with this argument in a big way.
Here's the response I sent:
First of all, there's a great article here: http://www.glad.org/uploads/docs/publications/cu-vs-marriage.pdf that offers a rundown to why we should fight for civil marriage over civil unions, including specific legal rights in which the terminology does make a difference.
Language is a powerful thing. It's my opinion that all states should grant "civil unions" to any couple regardless of the sex of the two people, and marriage should be left up to individual couples and religious institutions. That is not, however, how most states conduct marriage. If a state is willing to give a man and a woman a marriage, they should grant that same exact right to same-sex couples as well. It does matter what you call it. I think there is a mentality behind calling it a civil union - like, "okay, we'll give you these rights - we'll even give you all the same rights - but you still can't have that word marriage. It's reserved for 'straight' couples only! Sorry!" The statistics I've seen seem to show that more people are willing to support civil unions than who support full marriage equality. What does that say about how those people view same-sex couples? It says that they are not the same. It says that marriage is a special term that same-sex couples just don't have a right to have.
Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But there are plenty of people for whom the terminology makes a huge difference. I think it's important that bisexuals and the greater LGBTQ community come together to support full, equal rights - not only in the rights granted but in language as well. A civil union is not the same thing as a marriage. And I think having the "civil union" terminology in place will continue to perpetuate society's views of same-sex couples as "different." Do you really want that?
To me, the argument that what you call it doesn't matter as long as we have the same rights under the law is the same sort of argument as those *cough*HRC*cough* that say we should be satisfied with the version of ENDA that doesn't include pretecting gender identity as well as sexual orientation. Aside from the fact that many not-straight people don't conform to gender norms anyway when it comes to appearance or identity and are thus still at risk even though their orientation would be protected... it's absolutely settling for less. I know that there are probably people here that disagree with me on the ENDA issue, and that's troubling. We can't just sit back and say we are satisfied with a little progress and "trans people will get their rights someday."
Sorry, but separate but equal just isn't good for me when it comes to any civil rights issue. And my opinion about the terms would be the same even if there were no legal differences between civil unions and marriage (which there are).
There are lots more resources here if you'd like to read more about the issue: http://www.glad.org/marriage/
***Edited to add: Here is a GREAT resource from NOW about the issue!