The use of civil unions instead of same-sex marriage does not adequately address the reality of love or the unique nature of each human.
In the aftermath of the passing of Proposition 8 in California, there has been much debate about whether or not gay marriage is an issue that most of America is willing to support. This debate has illuminated a comparison between same-sex marriages and civil unions, with many arguing that civil unions allow legal rights without extremely changing the definition of marriage. Though there is a kernel of truth in this argument, if one is only looking at legal rights, there is also the need to address the fact that civil unions and same-sex marriage exist independently of each other and describe an overall different social reality. Though the current trend is toward equal legal rights regardless of gender in the relationships, the linguistic and meaningful difference between marriage and civil unions reveals much more than the fight for legal rights.
Legal recognition of same-sex couples is very important, in that it allows those who are in such a relationship to not be discriminated against in terms of medical issues, property issues, and child adoption among other issues. As some have suggested, the establishment of civil unions may be easier to accomplish and supposedly serve the same legal purpose as same-sex marriage. The law would be blind to the particularity of each couple, which connects to the idea of equality before the law. However, this outlook denies the fact that language plays an important role in reality. This reality is not only how homosexual love is viewed today, but a complex history of homosexuals within the United States and how they have been defined. It must be understood that using two different terms affects how that phenomenon is seen by humans. Marriage implies a deep commitment of love between two people, while civil unions can have the connotation of being a purely formal procedure or contract. This difference in perception supports a history of homosexual love not being seen as “serious” or as real as heterosexual love. This difference in quality can have the future implication of civil unions being more closely investigated or repealed since it would still be considered outside of the norm in regards to marriage. In other words, civil unions could degrade to the status of a man marrying a woman from another country so that the woman may stay in the United States, and could thus be seen as a corruption of the letter of the law. Civil unions may be a quick victory for gay rights, but it would be very fragile and subject to the whim of legal interpretation.
Same-sex marriage is a completely different matter. It would begin with an established fact, that homosexual love and heterosexual love are equal in quality. How romantic love itself is defined would still be up for debate, but homosexual and heterosexual couples would be equal participants because they experience the phenomenon equally. The legal rights that are currently being emphasized in the debate would necessarily follow, but there would also be a transformation of the definition of marriage. There would also be a tolerance of same-sex couples that does not imply an automatic or forced acceptance. Obviously this terrifies traditionalists and fundamentalists, sometimes for different reasons or overlapping reasons. But it is vital to state that this change in definition is actually a good thing, and part of a long line of social shifts and adaptations that does not mean the end of civilization. The change in the definition of marriage would not change human nature, but more accurately reflect it.
It should be noted that there was a fervent debate among homosexuals in the 1970’s up to the 1990’s on what kind of direction gay relationships should take. Would a homosexual relationship be either completely separate and different from straight relationships or similar to how straight people related to each other. There was also the factor that a homosexual relationship would be considered an improvement within its unique status. The issue of same-sex marriage entered into this debate over the fact that a support of same-sex marriages would be a type of process where homosexual life was spoken in a heterosexual language. Gay people would be recognized as fellow humans in this process, but there was still the question as to whether the gay identity and the gay community was truly unique. The implication was that the gay identity and the gay community needed to exist outside of a normalization procedure in order to survive.
For the sake of a common understanding, there is a need to define the gay community as it is usually referred to in everyday discussion. The reality is that the gay community is a collective of common experiences and not a set of equivalent identities. Homosexuals find themselves in a sense of community not because all homosexuals are the same, but that they all have been through a marginalization process by the dominant society. Since they did not fit in this majority straight opinion, existence is actually a portrayal of a unique human existence. It is not a common identity shaped by stereotypes based on camp, the switching of femininity and masculinity, or hypersexuality. These stereotypes are the ways the heterosexual part of society have tried to classify the gay experience from the outside of that experience. Therefore the debate in the gay community as to whether recognized marriage would be a betrayal of their unique nature fits in with how the heterosexual part of the larger society has constantly attempted to standardize what it means to be gay. The only healthy way to be in a same-sex marriage, from the gay community perspective, would be to change and evolve the idea of marriage itself.
Despite the fact that reality is always mediated when experienced by humans, reality is independent of the various structures of meaning. These structures shape reality, while reality acts as the constant background upon which these structures can exist in the first place. From this premise one can conclude that homosexual love is real, but the distinction between civil unions and marriage is a case of different structures redefining the real. The real is a multiplicity of singularities, where each part is absolutely different and unique than any other part. Structures created by humans are arbitrary relationships of difference and equivalence. The social uniqueness of each homosexual person is only an example of a larger situation where each human is unique to every other human. The introduction of the unique gay identity, and how gay people feel love in a similar way to straight people, will change the definition of marriage. However, this change is an addition rather than a subtraction in a social sense.
Within the history of civilizations, one can see a transition from marriage as a contract between families consecrated by a religious ceremony, to a secular contract between families, and finally to a decision to enter into a unity between two unique individuals. Same-sex marriage plays a role in this cultural evolution as a clear illustration that the commitment is between two individuals regardless of family or transcendent dogma. It can be debated as to whether true love really exists, but it can not be denied that what is commonly called love can in fact express itself despite the pressure of family, religion, and society. This new union does not subtract from the social body but will always add to it as an engine of novelty. Just as marriage is not a scarce resource, and same-sex marriage would not prevent any heterosexual couple from marrying, it is also an opportunity to explore truth by two unique people willing to come together. Any exploration of truth serves a society, and prevents its static inertia.