Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Marriage and Domestic Partnership Live Together

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OPINION

This morning’s State of Nevada on KNPR covered the one-year anniversary of the enactment of Nevada’s Domestic Partnership Act. Host Luis Hernandez spoke with four guests, two of whom were also sources for my Desert Companion story on the same subject.

The producer of the show, Irene Noguchi, invited me to sit in the production room and watch the discussion live. From that vantage point, I could hear both the aired conversation and Irene’s screening of callers. The behind-the-scenes flurry of calls about marriage and partnership and rights reminded me of things I wanted to say in the magazine article, but couldn’t.

A lot of any story gets left on the cutting room floor or off the air. Readers and listeners will only give journalists so much of their time, and we respect the value of it by giving them what we hope are the most important and relevant points.

Among the parts of this story that had to be cut was one that matters to me (and all my sources) personally: For some couples, a religious marriage is out of the question. Does that mean they don’t deserve the rights afforded to married people?

My boyfriend Peter and I live together, and raise his kids together (part-time, along with their mom) in the house we bought together. Our commitment to each other couldn’t be more apparent. But he’s an atheist and I’m an agnostic. We’re uncomfortable with the idea of being bound by a religious sacrament, which marriage seems to be. (If it isn’t, then why do opponents of same-sex marriage base their arguments on religious concepts, such as the “sanctity of marriage”?)

OK, so Peter and I could become domestic partners. This would definitely make our lives a lot easier. (See the story for more on that.) Still, we would lack the benefits of marriage determined by federal law, because of DOMA. As one of the guests on SON pointed out this morning, we’d be fine as long as we stayed in Nevada, but heaven forbid we get in a car accident in Utah. We would no longer have the right to make life-or-death decisions for each other. That right would go, instead, to next of kin.

In our case, it’s unlikely that either of our sets of parents would deny Peter or me the privilege of caring for one another in a time of need. You never know what can happen, though, and we’re heterosexuals, free from the cultural taboos that further vex the situation for same-sex couples (and prevent even those who do want a religious marriage from having it).

From this example you begin to see that marriage is the elephant in any room where domestic partnership comes up. That’s because the rights and responsibilities bestowed on people by domestic partnership are modeled on those granted to married people, while falling far short of full equality.

Consider the Nevada Domestic Partnership Act, which employs the word “spouse” throughout to describe the relationship – then at the end reminds us it is not to be confused with marriage.

I surmise this is to prevent domestic partners from obtaining the rights that married people have both within and outside their respective states, in the federal jurisdiction, and to keep closed the can of worms that is same-sex marriage.

But why? If marriage is a civil, not a religious, institution, then on what grounds are marriage rights denied? Let me put it another way: If Peter and I choose to live in sin, churches, which define sin, may care, but why should the federal government?

If it doesn’t – and if we fulfill all the other criteria of marriage – then why can’t we get a married couple’s rights without getting a church’s blessing?

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