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Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, excerpt

Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage, excerpt

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Published by Beacon Press
Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage reframes the family-rights debate by arguing that marriage shouldn't bestow special legal privileges upon couples because people, both heterosexual and LGBT, live in a variety of relationships-including unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended biological family units, and myriad other familial configurations. Nancy D. Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.
Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage reframes the family-rights debate by arguing that marriage shouldn't bestow special legal privileges upon couples because people, both heterosexual and LGBT, live in a variety of relationships-including unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended biological family units, and myriad other familial configurations. Nancy D. Polikoff shows how the law can value all families, and why it must.

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Published by: Beacon Press on Jun 08, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/29/2013

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Introduction
Karen Thompson had a problem.
Her lover of four years, Sharon Ko-walski, lay in a hospital bed, having suƒered a brain injury causedwhen a car operated by a drunk driver collided with her car on astormy Minnesota night. Because Karen wasn’t a family member, thenursing staƒ would not let her see Sharon; this would be the begin-ning of a decade-long struggle pitting Karen against Sharon’s parentsover control of Sharon’s treatment.
¹
Susan Burns had a problem.
The divorce decree awarding custody of her three children to their father stated that the children could notvisit her if at any time during their stay she was living with or spend-ing overnights with a person to whom she was not legally married.More than four years later, on July 1, 2000, Vermont instituted civilunions for same-sex couples. Susan entered into a civil union withher partner on July 3. When the children spent the night in the homeSusan shared with her partner, a judge found her in contempt of court.
²
Larry Courtney had a problem.
His partner of fourteen years, Eu-gene Clark, did not come home from his job on the 102nd floor of thesouth tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. WhenLarry filed a workers’ compensation claim, the reviewing agency replied that he did not qualify for benefits, which might instead bepaid to Eugene’s father, from whom Eugene had been estranged fortwenty years.
³
Lisa Stewart had a problem.
At thirty-three, and with a five-year-old daughter, Emily, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which be-came terminal. She was unable to continue working as a real estateappraiser and lost her income and her health insurance. Her partnerof ten years, Lynn, had insurance through her job, but it did not coverLisa and Emily. Lisa and Lynn live in South Carolina, which does notallow “second-parent” adoption, so Lisa is Emily’s only legally rec-
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ognized parent. When Lisa dies, Emily will receive Social Security survivors’ benefits, but Lynn will not.
A consumer of current news might imagine that access to same-sex marriage is the most contested issue in contemporary family pol-icy, and that marriage is the only cure for the disadvantages faced by lesbian and gay families. Both of these observations would be wrong.The most contested issue in contemporary family policy is whethermarried-couple families should have “special rights” not available toother family forms. Excluded families include unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended-family units, and any other constellation of individuals who form rela-tionships of emotional and economic interdependence that do notconform to the one-size-fits-all marriage model. No other Westerncountry, including those that allow same-sex couples to marry, cre-ates the rigid dividing line between the law for the married and thelaw for the unmarried that exists in the United States.Consider the situations of the people above. Some may see themas evidence that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. If Karenand Sharon had been married, no one would have questioned Karen’sright to be Sharon’s guardian. If Susan and her partner were married,she would not have been in violation of the court order when herchildren visited. If Larry and Eugene had been married, Larry wouldhave received Eugene’s workers’ compensation benefit. If Lisa andLynn could marry, Lisa would be covered on Lynn’s health insurance,Lynn could adopt Emily, and Lisa and Emily would both receive So-cial Security survivors’ benefits when Lisa died.I see these stories diƒerently. Karen was the right choice to beSharon’s guardian because she knew Sharon best and was indis-putably committed to her, because Sharon progressed when Karenworked with her while she was institutionalized, and because Karenwas willing to take Sharon out of an institution and care for her intheir home. Susan and her children were entitled to regular visita-tion to sustain and support their mother-child relationship, and un-less her partner was harming the children, the fact that Susan livedwith a partner should not have concerned a family court judge. Larrand Eugene were an economic unit; Eugene’s death hurt Larry, notEugene’s father. Lisa needed healthcare; her daughter needed legal
Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage
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