A while back, I got in an argument with Andrew Sullivan and others about what the Federal Marriage Amendment would do. (See here and scroll up for my last comment on that controversy.) Sullivan is writing about the subject again today, which gives me the opportunity to note two things. First, it’s been bothering me for some time that in my initial post, I called Sullivan’s interpretation of the FMA “ridiculous.” I still think he was wrong, but what I said was an unkind overstatement.
2) His post today is basically correct. The FMA does not bar state legislatures from extending incidents of marriage to unmarried persons or groups. A benefit that had previously been reserved to married couples could be legislatively granted more widely–to any two people who share a household, for example. The FMA does, however, bar governmental benefits to unmarried persons premised on a sexual relationship between (or among) them. It would not bar legislatively enacted civil unions that, say, opened various benefits to any two people living together–whether they were two brothers, two guys who sleep together, widows who had set up house, or whatever. It would bar civil unions that were limited to gay couples. If you support civil unions as a step toward the governmental recognition that same-sex unions are equivalent, in all the ways that ought to matter to public authorities, to traditional marital unions, you ought be against the FMA. (There are, of course, other reasons a person could be against it.)