Last week the Human Rights Campaign launched a nationwide boycott on United Airlines, which strongly opposes the city of San Francisco's "Domestic Partner" law, whose provisions many of you are probably familiar with. It states basically that any domestic partners, i.e., couples not married but living together, must receive benefits generally reserved for only married couples elsewhere, usually health insurance, medical leave, or, particularly in the case of United, travel benefits. Although it applies to heterosexual couples in common law marriages as well, it was enacted mostly for the benefit of the city's large gay population.
United Airlines, which maintains a large hub at San Francisco International, has fought the ordinance in the courts for about two years now. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest lobbying group for gays and lesbians, has, with the San Francisco city council, undertaken a boycott of the airline to force it to offer it's spousal benefits to it's gay and lesbian, as well as unwed heterosexual, employees in long term relationships.
I just want to state that I think this is a stupid law and an even more stupid boycott..
Before you cry out that I am some sort of traitor for dissenting from the will of the HRC, which by the way I regard as being often more harmful to our cause than genuinely useful (and this is a case where I feel that is especially true), allow me to explain myself. I am generally politically conservative. That doesn't mean I like Trent Lott or Newt Gingrich or Bush Junior. No, not at all. I think they are flaming ass holes of the highest order. But in many matters, I tend to be very moderate, which generally means I disagree with ALL our politicians. This is one of those circumstances. Here are my arguments:
1) Firstly, United Airlines is the world's largest airline. It employs many tens of thousands of employees on all parts of the globe, and in many of those places, homosexual relations are forbidden (Oklahoma and Indonesia, for example). To extend a privilege to just its San Francisco employees would be unfair. Businesses that are entirely contained in San Francisco can obey the law without seeming preferential, but sprawling, global companies like United would find it difficult. To truly be fair, it would have to offer all its employees from Pittsburgh to Caracas these benefits, and in neither of these locales, nor anywhere else for that matter, are they required or perhaps even legal.
2) But you argue, shouldn't the rest of the world take a clue from San Francisco's enlightened law? Wouldn't United be doing a noble thing for the gay community by offering domestic partner benefits to everyone? NO! I for one firmly support the sanctity of marriage. I come from a divorced background, which has a strong influence on my beliefs, and I see a lot of problems in society that come from the lack of structured relationships. My grandmother is a educational support teacher in an elementary school in a small, gritty town. She sees everyday miserable, unhappy families with mothers switching boyfriends weekly and abused, unhappy children paying the price. So do I. And the the problems go on.
Marriage is truly the building block of any society (though certainly not a panacea for all ills as some would argue), and anything that encourages the tear-down of the institution offends and shocks me. It has been a basic tenet of all civilizations for millenia that unless you are married, you have no legal claim to your partner. Commnunity property laws do not apply. This is good. That system encourages marriages and results in a stronger society. Change this system at your own peril, as we see today.
In Canada, the Supreme Court is considering the case of a Canadian figure skater who is being sued for palimony of outrageous magnitude by his ex-boyfriend, a Toronto area banker. No marriage, not a cent, I say. You want the legal advantages of marriage, get married. Don't ask the government, or your employer to subsidize your boyfriend/girlfriend. That discourages marriage and encourages fraud and immorality.
3) "But Evan," you are surely saying by now, "gays and lesbians CAN'T get married!!" Ahh, now we get to the real heart of the matter. If I believe marriage is the best thing since sliced bread, that must mean I think we gays are immoral and depraved, right? No! What I do believe is that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. Yes: I DO support gay marriage. Strongly.
Wouldn't that make things nice and tidy? I obviously believe homosexuality is a natural human relationship but without the support of the law by way of marriage, it leaves us in an untenible situation in long term relationships, as in the cautionary tale of our figure skating Canuck friend. And it is just for those reasons that the San Francisco city fathers felt it necessary to pass the domestic partner laws, so that homosexual couples can reap the benefits of marriage in a legal system that does now allow it.
Therefore, my main objection to the domestic partner law is that is is an incomplete and dangerous solution to a problem that can be best solved by legalizing gay marriage. By supporting this law, the HRC is in effect undermining its claim that gay marriage should be instituted. The two goals, domestic partner laws and gay marriage are not mutually compatible. To convince the world, the United States and Canada in particular, that gay marriage is necessary, there must be convincing evidence that its absense is hurting our society. And domestic partner laws are obscuring that indisputable fact.
So, to the Human Rights Campaign I say, leave United alone and place your energies in more productive places: the legalization of gay marriage. It will be an uphill battle, but necessary to preserve our society's order in the end. And any laws which discourage marriage should immediatly be repealed.
I wrote this column after midnight three days past deadline, so if it strikes you as incoherent, there is good reason for that. I encourage you to write me with your comments, both pro and con, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to debate this issue with you, for it is one I feel strongly about. Until next month, Happy New Year and God bless. And Hugz to Matt...