While the economy and foreign policy are some of the most important issues in November’s presidential election, equal rights for Americans through the legalization of civil marriages should also be on voters’ minds. Americans need to familiarize themselves with the correct terms to use when referring to civil marriages, because politicians don’t always get it right. But this is not the only problem. Most politicians aren’t familiar with the correct terms, either.
A civil union is not, by definition, a marriage. Unfortunately, it carries a different connotation. Although it was created with the intentions of advancing gay and lesbian marriage equality, civil unions actually exclude couples from basic rights. The term “civil union” was created by the state of Vermont in 2000 as a way to legally recognize partnerships that give same-sex couples the same rights as traditional couples. Civil unions are valid in Hawaii, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island. These states have made an effort to provide legal protection to same-sex couples legislatively at the state level, but these unions omit some government protections traditional couples receive.
For example, when a same-sex couple adopts a child, only one partner can be legally considered the step-parent. In the event of a medical emergency involving the adopted child, if the step-parent is not there, the other partner does not have the right to approve medical treatment for the child.
Also, when couples in civil unions fill out forms that ask if they are married or single, they must file as single or they could be charged with fraud. Partners who have lived together for decades or who are legally married still have troubles paying taxes jointly. Twenty-four states, about 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies and plenty of smaller companies currently provide healthcare benefits to their employees’ same-sex partners. However, partners who share healthcare coverage must pay taxes on the value of the benefits. Some companies pay the difference, but most couples are stuck with annual fees.
The simplest thing to do is to include gays and lesbians in the existing marriage laws that are applied to same-sex couples nationwide. How can we as citizens help? Elect a leader who will agree with equality laws. The winner of the presidential election must put an end to the restrictions that put children in unnecessary danger and affect the basic rights of a family in the United States. All in all, a solution starts with voters being educated on equality. Until our country officially supports marriage equality everywhere, Americans — regardless of where they stand — need to choose a leader whose values coincide with liberty, justice and, most importantly, equality.