While I have not had much personal experience with elderly GLBT people, I had no idea there was such a discrepancy in terms of dispensing such a thing as healthcare and spousal benefits. While a domestic partnership is supposed to be different only in degree from a marriage (or a supposed civil union) to my understanding (along with common law marriage), it would seem that it does not afford many benefits or general advantages that a marriage does. If one’s spouse dies in military action for instance, there is no providence within federal standards to give pensions to the bereaved. Similarly there is disparity within Social Security and Medicaid in terms of benefits for spousal care. I could point out the various inequalities in the overall economics of benefits given to heterosexual married couples over same-sex couples that are in domestic partnerships; but my primary issue within this blog entry is to consider how the issue of gay and lesbian elders suffering problems in healthcare, nursing homes and the like connects to the problems of the system of marriage itself today, to both straight and gay couples.
The issues with being either a gay/lesbian couple that is “married” in the loosest sense of the term or being a “straight” couple cohabitating for an extended period are identical with the present state of marriage as an institution. Not only is there the dual validation with marriage through a church (though I believe this is not the actual officiating ceremony or document) and through civil process (which officiates the process through the proper papers), but there are the aforementioned differences that come through various tragedies that can affect both gay/lesbian and opposite sex couples. A spouse can die in military service, a spouse can be stricken with a sudden crippling illness, or the couple can both pass away and issues of inheritance become a labyrinthine task to proceed through. As long as you are “married” and have that official title (which according to the majority of states and countries is only granted to a couple that is a man and a woman) you are given benefits that begin to appear more like discrimination and less like acts of compassion by the state (that in a socialist worldview has a responsibility to provide for the less fortunate those things they cannot provide for themselves).
This leads me to a general conclusion that it would be better for everyone involved in the institution of marriage if it was first and foremost changed so that only civil marriages were recognized in the U.S. This would only be a start to the issue, since even in a system where marriages are only legally recognized when performed by a civil servant and not a priest who is somehow considered the same (which is patently absurd), there would be arguments that push the ideology that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Without confronting this outdated notion of what marriage is, it would continue to be a system that denies benefits deserved by same sex couples that are instead given only to “traditional” couples. It is, unfortunately, still not possible to have same sex marriage in France, where the status of marriage has been altered where only civil weddings are recognized by the country in what is called laicite. It is still argued that the civil code only allows for marriages between a man and a woman to be recognized. Therefore, the primary issue is about the definition of marriage itself and preventing it from becoming a relic of archaic culture. Even if the U.S. by some stroke of fortune alters the status of marriage to exclude religious ceremonies as binding (which is highly unlikely in the state of America’s religiosity at present), one would still find the same problems cropping up as to how to define marriage. And contrary to the insistence from such groups as Focus on the Family, it has already changed drastically and will continue to do so. In so defining, we should be primarily concerned with the implementation of the law in principle and not be so legalistic to stick to exactly what the law says when it was commonly formulated in a time when there was little idea of minority civil rights or of women’s suffrage. If America is a country of liberty and justice for all, I don’t see why we should ignore that guiding principle in the Constitution and make liberty and justice apply only to the status quo. Socialist, anarchist or otherwise, I am not advocating that marriage as an institution should be eliminated. If anything, marriage should be defined in a more flexible fashion and more importantly, should reflect the will of the people that is commonly advocated and yet often ignored. Why shouldn’t the state follow the will of the governed in such an institution where the governed are the primary recipients of the benefits associated with the process itself? Or does the state know what is best for marriage itself, even though the state is hardly married to anything in the first place? Unless marriage is made a fluid term, likened to how it has become in many other countries in the world, we will no doubt fall behind, if only in terms of allowing for the pursuit of happiness for those under the Constitution.