by Jennifer Johnson

Proposal from the Ruth Institute: Gender-Based Civil Unions

Since an essential public purpose of civil marriage in the United States has been to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to one another, and since this essential purpose is being overwritten and therefore discarded due to gender neutral marriage and parenting laws, we propose the following:

To establish civil unions that are gender based–one man and one woman. With respect to taxation, parentage, federal benefits, etc. (reference), they will be legally equivalent to (now gender neutral) marriage in everything but the name. The legal doctrine that was formerly known as the marital presumption of paternity, which existed in order to attach the father to the family, was distorted into the marital presumption of parentage under gender neutral marriage and parentage. It shall be restored to its former function of attaching the father to the family for these civil unions. Gender based terms shall be used to describe the parties, such as male, female, mother, father, etc.

Male/female couples who were previously considered married under the gender neutral system may opt into a gender-based civil union. Churches who uphold marriage as the union between a man and a woman can perform these ceremonies under whatever name they wish. If they wish to call it marriage, they can do so. There will be no speech restrictions regarding what individuals, churches, or other private entities call these unions. However, with respect to the legal code, they will be called civil unions.

Regarding divorce: generally, we prefer the state to have a higher bar to overcome before getting involved in a divorce for these civil unions than it does currently for civil marriage. Michael J. McManus, in the Spring 2011 edition of The Family in America (reference), proposes what he calls “Three Achievable No-Fault Reforms.” They are:

  1. Mutual Consent.
  2. Parental Divorce Reduction Act.
  3. Responsible Spouse/Fit Parent.

We are open to discussion about any of these or other reasonable proposals. Our primary goals are to reaffirm sex differences in the legal code and to reaffirm the father’s attachment to the family. Secondarily, we see these civil unions as an opportunity to make long-needed reforms to divorce laws.

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