Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bride, groom call foul on marriage equality

A Sacramento couple told their local paper that their "rights were violated" when they were required to sign a marriage license as "Party A" and "Party B" rather than "Bride" and "Groom." They apparently were unaware that, following In re Marriage Cases, the state changed its forms to be gender-neutral. When they altered their forms, they were rejected.
"We are traditionalists – we just want to be called bride and groom," said Bird, 25, who works part time for her father's church. "Those words have been used for generations and now they just changed them."

Bird and Codding have refused to complete the new [California marriage] forms, a stand that has already cost them. Because their marriage is not registered with the state, Bird cannot sign up for Codding's medical benefits or legally take his name. They are now exploring their options, she said.

Bird's father, Doug Bird, pastor of Roseville's Abundant Life Fellowship, said he is urging couples not to sign the new marriage forms, and that he is getting some support from congregants and colleagues at local churches.

In the article, Ms. Bird says her stance is "personal - not religious." The article does not state the couple's view of same-sex marriage, or whether they would be happy with different options on the forms. Naturally, though, conservative groups are seizing on their case:

"Those who support (same-sex marriage) say it has no impact on heterosexuals," said Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute. "This debunks that argument."

Well, so much for the argument that names don't matter. But if this is the best equality opponents can come up with, it's not very good.

One might compare this couple's situation to those of (a) the typical same-sex couple in 48 states, and (b) same-sex couples who, because one of them is transgendered and their transition is not recognized under state law, are legally regarded as an "opposite-sex" couple. Couple (a) is denied the rights, benefits, and/or legal title of marriage. Couple (b) is granted those rights and benefits, and that legal title, but at the cost of accepting the legal titles of "husband" and "wife," thus negating the authentic gender of one spouse. Couple (a) is simply shut out, while couple (b) faces a painful and undignified choice.

The choice faced by this couple is far less stark: the state will recognize them as a married couple, and as a woman and man respectively, but not as "Bride" and "Groom." Same-sex couples could raise the same complaint: the State's forms fail to recognize them as two "Brides" or two "Grooms." For that matter, the State's forms fail to recognize any other specific title for the spouses that may have religious, cultural or other personal significance. So I am disinclined to see a violation of any right here.

Nevertheless, it would not be hard for the State to provide check boxes for "Bride" and "Groom," so as to accommodate all combination; our online wedding registry at Target provided this option. There might be an argument that this constituted a symbolic segregation of couples by gender that produced the same harm as distinguishing between "marriage" and "civil union." However, the differing labels would have far less salience - we are essentially only talking about the marriage license paperwork itself, since "bride" and "groom" are not terms much used by law and government in any event - so I don't think I would find it nearly so troubling.

EDIT: Feministing calls bullshit.

1 comment:

Aviva said...

What complete nonsense. I'd have no problem with forms that allowed both spouses to choose any title they pleased (and I'm not actually sure how this would constitute segregation, since it would be voluntary - why not leave "party a" or something as an option, too?). In fact, it seems like a good idea, given that some of the arguments against same-sex marriage claim that it takes something away from different-sex couples. But what's being taken away here is so completely meaningless - it's not like church services can no longer refer to these people as bride and groom or pronounce them man and wife, it's simply the words on a single form. I absolutely don't believe that Ms. Bird's stance against this is personal and not religious/political, and that they're not both being put up to it by Mr. Bird's father.