Friday, December 15, 2006

Civil Unions

New Jersey's legislature has officially allowed civil unions (link). The question is whether one should view this as a good thing or a bad thing.

On the one hand, extending the status of civil union, rather than marriage, to homosexual couples makes it clear that marriage is not an option for them. This is similar to affirming an oath rather than swearing. Technically, affirming an oath is the equivalent in Jewish law to swearing because and affirmation is a colloquial equivalent to a swear. Therefore, it should be just as binding as a swear. When I asked a posek (Jewish law decisor) why there is any value in affirming an oath in court rather than swearing, he answered that since I am specifically avoiding the term "swear" I am making it clear that that in that circumstance affirming is not the equivalent of swearing. Similarly, allowing for homosexual civil unions but not marriage makes it clear that the state is not allowing such marriages and that civil unions are distinct from them. And if civil unions are merely a matter of economics then I see no legitimate reason for homosexuals to be subject to economic disadvantages.

On the other hand, if this is a first step towards allowing homosexual marriages, as some gay activists are loudly proclaiming, then those who are opposed to homosexual marriages should also be opposed to civil unions. I do see legitimate religious reason for opposing homosexual marriages and, therefore, there is a basis to invoke a "slippery slope" concern. Thus, whether one supports or opposes civil unions would hinge on whether this is a first step or the last move. I am not sufficiently politically savvy to be able to evaluate that.

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