Marriage by Any Other Name

Atypical Neurotic writes:

This is a revision of a comment I just made on a Facebook post on the topic of marriage equality, specifically on whether opposition (or even skepticism) was prima facie evidence of bad will, if not bigotry, intolerance and hate, and thus deserving of punishment. Even though the battle is won, men and women of all sexual orientations are still being forced to choose sides. Very well. Here goes.

I have been in a Norwegian civil partnership for almost twenty years with the man I fell in love and wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Not once have I ever thought that I was being treated like a second-class citizen simply because the rights and responsibilities attaching to civil partnership were laid down in special legislation rather than in a revision of the Marriage Act. In fact, the Civil Partnership Act gave civil partners most of the rights and all of the responsibilities under the Marriage Act, the relevant sections of which the Civil Partnership Act cited by name in every applicable case.

But even before this law was passed in 1993, same-sex couples had been treated exactly like heterosexual cohabitants without children in common. Exactly. No difference. And this equal treatment was real. Even for the purposes of immigration. That’s why I’m here. All civil partnership did was codify and regularize existing practice. For where it really counts, civil partnership was not “marriage-light”. It was truly marriage. And it was treated as such in all areas of civil society. Just read any insurance contract or pension enrolment form from the civil partnership era. Without exception the list of definitions always contained the clause “Under these Terms and Conditions, ‘spouse’ shall also be understood to mean civil partner under Act No. 40 of 30 April 1993 relating to civil partnership”. Except for the dates in the citation, which I had to Google, I can still rattle off this clause from memory. That’s how often I had to translate it. Civil partnership entailed a serious commitment. Cohabitating couples do not have to petition the county governor for permission to dissolve their households. Civil partners do: division of property, alimony, the whole ball of wax. And the reason for this is that civil partners are automatically each other’s heir intestate and are expected to make painful life decisions like signing commitment papers for a partner who has temporarily lost his mind or giving consent to the doctors to pull the plug when all hope is lost.

In 2009, the Marriage Act was not just amended but completely rewritten in parts to enshrine “full marriage equality” in Norwegian law. The second to last section of the revised act repealed the Civil Partnership Act. Even so, civil partnerships were not automatically dissolved because to do so would have been unconstitutional. Those civil partners who wished for a “marriage-class upgrade” were required to apply specifically for it. We have not done so, and we never will. For one thing, there’s no point. We have all of the responsibilities anyway, and are uninterested in or physically incapable of exercising the additional rights. These all relate to adoption of “exogenous” children and, to put it bluntly, free fertility services paid for by the National Insurance Scheme, i.e. same-sex spouses are treated as infertile couples, because, that, children, is what they are.

I suppose the main reason that we have not petitioned the district court for an upgrade is laziness. But I have an additional reason. Keeping my partnership is my way of signalling my sympathy with the people of good will who wondered whether adding neologisms like “co-mother” and “co-father” to the body of family law was imprudent and might not have unintended consequences, and had the courage to say so. In any case, my partnership was upgraded to marriage in the hearts of those who matter: our families. For example: on her first and only visit to Norway 15 years ago, my devoutly Catholic sister spontaneously and without “air quotes” said to my partner’s sister, “You’re my first sister-in-law that I like”. That continues to mean more to me than any legislation any parliament could possibly pass. And I know for a fact that I can count on my in-laws for any support I may need. They know I’d never ask for it, unless I really had no choice, and they’ve told me so. No matter what my future legal relationship is with their brother, I am still and will always be a loved and honored part of the family. They’ve told me that too, and that’s enough.

My stand should not be construed as disparagement of the choice by others to take the upgrade. Marriage in name as well as fact is deeply meaningful to them, and I know people who have taken the opportinity marriage equality offers them to resolemnize their bond or legally declare their love in the first place. This brings me back to the issue of honor, which the question of same-sex marriage (and all same-sex equality issues) really concerns. In affairs of the heart, justice is just another word for legally sanctioned revenge outsourced to the courts. But honor is sacred. Throughout history, men and women have died for it – and killed for it. I think that I have made my position clear. Barred from any compromise that honored everyone’s legitimate feelings, the avenue that eventually secured marriage equality was the only way for my homosexual brothers and sisters in my ex-homeland to regain their honor. Enough of their fellow citizens of good will took note of the injustice, have agreed with them, and now they have it. Full marriage equality. I continue to maintain that the original sin in this debate was the fact that Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. An honorable man would have had the balls to let it pass over his veto. No guts, no glory. But, then we should not be surprised. The man is a draft-dodger, and an especially disingenuous one at that. Character always tells.

One final note. Please do not label my refusal to obsess over words “internalized homophobia”. This is a serious charge, graver even than calling me a Nazi. As it happens, there is such a thing as internalized homophobia, but it is not refusing to toe the rainbow alphabet soup party line du jour. It means hating the core of your being so deeply that you are incapable giving or receiving true and full intimacy from a person of the sex you despise yourself for so ardently desiring. Anyone who has lived with and loved such a man or woman will know exactly what I am talking about. It’s the closest thing to hell on earth. It is an affliction of the soul far more debilitating than hearing voices, and not just because there is no pill for it. In fact, it’s usually self-medicated with alcohol. So before you accuse me of self-hatred, take a deep breath and count to ten. I don’t hate anybody. There are a lot of people (mostly men) that I hold in contempt, merited for underhanded behavior towards me or people I love. I find them contemptible but I don’t hate them. If I were to give them even a moment’s thought, I suppose what I actually feel for them is pity. If you have read this far and understand where I am coming from, you know that this is far more serious judgment than mere hatred.

Finally, I will not delete any comments, no matter how poisonous. So fire away. Maybe I’ll respond. Probably I won’t. Lest anyone think that I am being a weenie by refusing to engage in “debate”, all I will say is that people who are unable to tell the difference between forbearance and running away from an argument or allowing myself to be a punching bag simply don’t get it.

About Atypical Neurotic

An Illinois-born refugee from academia who in late middle-age finds himself a civil servant in Norway. An unashamed city-dweller, he walks 30 minutes every day to a job where he is not paid to be an economist (lawyer or accountant), only to sound like one.
This entry was posted in Personal reflections, Politics and Economics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Marriage by Any Other Name

  1. Tarnished says:

    This is a really cool post. Thanks for talking about how civil partnerships and marriage work in Norway…call it ignorance, call it an inability to know the laws of every other country…but I only truly know how things work in the US. It’s good to see that other countries are more progressive, even as I wish my own country was at that level.

    The horrible DOMA crap that got pushed on us Americans was disgusting. I’m bi and and am not desirous of more than the FwB thing I’ve had with my guyfriend for the last 7+ years. However, bigoted laws send ripples of intolerance and a subtle message of “it’s okay to treat others differently based on orientation”. Yeah…how about no? I watched the footage of the overturning of DOMA and was so grateful that the bullshit of the false studies and selectively highlighted papers were called out for what they were. It was glorious.

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  2. Great piece, and I certainly can’t see any reason to go into quibble or debate mode. Removing the barriers in the way of gay-people-in-committed-relationships being recognized as full partners (wills, hospitals, care, insurance, etc) was something that was long overdue. Was going all-out for marriage a wise move politically? I had my reservations because I feared it’d cause a backlash (“We’ve given those gays a lot over the last 40 years — why do they now want to undermine a sacred tradition that means a lot to us squares?!!!!”) and become a culture-dividing cause of rancor and hatred, like abortion. So putting in place some kind of official civil partnership arrangement, as you describe Norway’s, or maybe just moving privately from employer to employer getting equal coverage out of them (a process that was proceeding along nicely, at least in NYC, btw) seemed to me the wiser choice. Let the squares have their sacred “marriage” thing, which does seem to mean a lot to them, and let’s focus on what matters to us practically, you know? And besides, who’s keeping anyone from throwing a “we’re officially bonding” party? But winning the gay-marriage fight certainly takes care of the legal problems in one big stroke. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a real culture-divider.

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    • Atypical Neurotic says:

      There is a website with links to unofficial translations of Norwegians legislation, mostly, but not exclusively, into English. For years, the translation of the Civil Partnership Act was in fact a (not especially good) translation of the bill (which was passed in an identical form), along with the arguments from the Labor Party Ministries of Justice and of Family Affairs for the bill (why not marriage, etc.). The real and unstated reason was to harmonise Norwegian law with Danish law, since there is so much reciprocity among all Nordic countries, and Denmark had passed a civil partnership act in the previous year. But the arguments for not revising the Marriage Act could have been written by Bill Buckley, because he said exactly the same thing. The act passed with support of nearly all parties. And the Christian Democrats never made repeal a condition of participating in a non-socialist government.

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  3. peterike says:

    I have no idea about how things work in Norway, but in America the push for gay marriage has nothing to do with equal rights under the law, and civil partnerships or whatever were never going to satisfy. The real point is to force acceptance of homosexuality, whether you like it or not. To this end, we’ve been subjected to an Orwellian propaganda campaign that put homosexuals in front of you everywhere you looked. (It is no surprise that surveys show Americans thinking 25% of the population is gay — just like it is on TV!)

    Now I don’t really care one way or another about it — politically, it’s trivial — but I think it’s important to acknowledge how effectively the Powers That Be were able to take something that most Americans were viscerally against and change millions of people’s minds through a deliberate campaign of thought control. It’s really quite fascinating and would be an interesting case study in media mind control, but of course nobody would be allowed to study it. And now, everybody pretends that they always felt that way, when in point of fact they didn’t.

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    • Atypical Neurotic says:

      Thanks for your comment. I had a discussion with my brother on the topic, and he voiced some of the same concerns. I told him that I thought they were legitimate, but tried to explain to him the reasoning applied by the Supreme Court (which I made a point of not agreeing with). I think that the change in attitudes has more complex causes, but that does not mean that I think you are a bigot or a hater for stating your objection as vociferously as you do. Debate is not possible if you demonize your opponents. I actually expect to get more comments in the same vein as yours, and I welcome them. Not least because I can tell who has cojones and who doesn’t. I also think you are canny enough to notice that the rainbow alphabet soup party hoodoo doesn’t work on me (I want that term to become universal). I’d rather have a beer with you and talk about our common respect for love and honor than sit and listen to some self-hating man drone on about the injustice of heteronormativity and essentialism. But that’s just me.

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  4. Fenster says:

    You appear to equate Norwegian civil partnerships with marriage on the basis of their identical legal protections and coverages: “(A civil partnership) was truly marriage. And it was treated as such in all areas of civil society. Just read any insurance contract or pension enrolment form from the civil partnership era.”

    I wonder if it is because you are secular–and I am just guessing that you are–that you are comfortable with this pragamtic “quack like a duck” view. I don’t know about Norway–which itself is probably more secular than the US?–but stateside it seems to me that marriage also has a magic pixie dust quality that cannot be shoehorned into issues of contracts or pensions. You suggest that in Norway, you viewed the granting of civil partnerships as giving you essentially 100% of what you wanted. But in the US, I suspect that the legalistic approach was viewed by many, including gays, as more like half the cake. “OK, you can have those contract rights over there, but we refuse to give you the magic pixie dust. You are still not equivalent”.

    To the argument that acceptance here has been enabled by sophisticated thought control. I dunno. I don’t really buy the Cathedral line. I mean, of course we have elites in our society and of course they punch way above their weight in terms of defining the boundaries of issues. But there remains in this big country a ton, two tons, ten tons of disagreement and debate. And if the Cathedral can snap its fingers and magically realign opinion on marriage equality, why has it done such a spectacularly poor job by comparison with immigration and abortion and other such issues? I don’t think this can be boiled down to simple thought control.

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  5. Will S. says:

    I don’t see why we need any legislation recognizing ‘civil unions’.

    No reason why lovers can’t live together, as they please, regardless of the law; no reason why life insurance companies can’t choose, for business reasons, to offer death benefits to same-sex-partner widows / widowers, same as they do for married straight couples. I could well see progs undertaking campaigns to shame companies into conformity, and hey, why not let the market decide. (Yes, I may not like what progs did to Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich – in fact I hate it – but at least it wasn’t the State interfering…)

    I’ve heard many hospitals are quite ready to recognize partners as spouses for visitation purposes; again, nothing a negative publicity campaign couldn’t ameliorate, surely.

    Therefore, why the need to recognize ‘civil unions’?

    Other than a desire to see the hand of the State force businesses like insurance companies, organizations like hospitals, etc., to treat such partnerships as identical to those of married people, to use the power of the State to enforce comformity with new social mores.

    Well, as someone who has gay friends in real life, not just online, but nevertheless holds to traditional Christian morality, fuck that. (Yes, I use that language. Anyone who doesn’t like that can kiss my ass, figuratively, of course.)

    Nobody in the West is stopping people from living together, today. Nobody is executing gays and lesbians; nobody is imprisoning any modern day Oscar Wildes.

    Therefore, I don’t give a fuck whether someone thinks ‘civil unions’, at least, are necessary; I disagree, and I don’t give a fuck whether I’m thought a bigot for so doing. So I may well be. Oh well!

    Frankly, anyone who needs to run to Mommy Nanny State to hide in her petticoats for protection, rather than standing on his/her two feet with or without State or corporate endorsement, strikes me as pathetic. If you’re freedom-minded, be a classical liberal. If you’re a trad, be a trad-con. If you’re a prog, just fuck off and die, do the rest of the planet a favour.

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  6. Fake Herzog says:

    Atypical,

    This was a very interesting and thought-provoking piece — you aren’t really Bruce Bawer are you?

    I’m a traditional Catholic (so your sister’s response seems strange to me — I can understand loving you and your family, but I would never call a cat a dog just as I would never call your lover’s sister your “sister-in-law”) so you know where I’m coming from. That said, I thought Will S. made a strange comment — of course he’s right that contracts can in theory do everything that civil partnership legislation can do; but civil partnership legislation makes all of that much easier! I agree, however, that society should not be in the business of making homosexual relationships normal or easier; our business should be about the care and cultivation of the traditional family, period.

    I also think “peterike” is on to something — the radical change in attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexual behavior is really kind of amazing when viewed in historical context. Trads like me should be wondering how the heck it happened and how we can reverse these attitudes (if such a thing is possible — but I think everything is possible in Christ, so I remain the eternal optimist).

    Finally, “Tarnished” should be aware that Regnerus’ work is just as good (if not better) than any of the other social scientists working on this issue:

    http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/10/6786/

    And there is nothing bigoted about a law that makes moral distinctions between different behaviors. Would you say a law against theft is bigoted against those who don’t believe in private property? I guess you would if you were a Marxist…

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    • Atypical Neurotic says:

      No, I am not Bruce Bawer, but Bruce is a friend of mine. My sister’s response is her own, and it came from her heart. And that’s good enough for me. Look. I truly respect where you’re coming from, even if I march to a different drummer. I don’t believe that another man or woman’s cherished and sincerely held beliefs should be mocked. But disagreement is not mockery. I am familiar enough with history to know that the greatest achievements of Christian Europe are toleration and then tolerance (not the same). It’s called agreeing to disagree. If you don’t burn me at the stake, I won’t feed you to the lions.

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      • Fake Herzog says:

        I think it is cool that you know Bruce — he is a singular talent even though I obviously think he’s wrong about homosexuality and marriage. I’m happy to agree to disagree — I hang out at this den of iniquity after all 😉

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