Tag Archives: civil unions

The Fall of Rome, Reality Based History – and Gay Adoption

The vocal opponents of family equality are fond of making sweeping statements (in flagrant disregard of the evidence) about how marriage has “always” been between one man and on woman, how the proponents of equality are “redefining” evidence, quite ignoring the ways in marriage has been constantly redefined in the past – not least by the Christian churches. A variation on the theme has been that homosexuality has destroyed great civilizations, such as that of Rome. Illinois state Rep. Ronald Stephens has repeated this claim, blaming “open homosexuality” for the fall of Rome.
In a fun, sane response in the Chicago Sun-Times, Neill Steinberg dismisses the claim, basing his response on, well, historical fact, not what he calls Stephens’ talking points. His most important observation is that the best known extensive study of the fall of Rome, Edward Gibbons “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire“, concluded that Roman civilization collapsed not because of homosexuality, but because of – guess what? Christianity.

Would that be a argument to ban Christianity today, for fear that it could cause the collapse of modern Western civilization?

The point I want to make is not that Gibbons was either right or wrong, but to heartily endorse Steinberg’s larger point, that grand claims about the lessons of history really ought to be checked against the facts. This is certainly true in the secular sphere, but also in religious discourse. The often -repeated Vatican claims of Catholic “constant and unchanging tradition” are a smokescreen, often used to used to hide the importance of recently introduced changes, as Martin Pendergast noted recently, writing about gradualism in Benedict’s theology.

But today, I do not want to explore this theme of the Church’s constantly changing tradition. Let’s just enjoy, instead, Steinberg’s thoroughly delightful response to rep Stephens’ ignorance. Here are some extracts:

Ignorance is the great engine of human misery, the fertile field where its fruit, hatred, grows in all its awful forms, from the first human, crouching on a dark savannah, screeching terrified defiance at a shape silhouetted on the horizon, to Rep. Ronald Stephens, rising to his feet in the Illinois House, blaming “open homosexuality” for the fall of Rome.

….the Roman Empire — even lopping off the first 700 years, from Rome’s founding to Julius Caesar — lasted 500 years.

We should only fall so quickly.


Let us consult Edward Gibbon, whose classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire isn’t read in high schools, at least not Downstate, apparently, the way it once was.
Gibbon puts the blame — and this really is too delicious — not on homosexuality, but on Christianity, which he says made the Roman population more worried about their place in heaven than about barbarians at the gate.
“I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion,” Gibbon concludes, famously, in his epigram.

What were they like – The barbarians who sacked Rome were not only a bunch of lazy Teutonic drunks, according to Gibbon, who only cared to conquer Italy because beer, while “sufficient for the gross purposes of German debauchery,” wasn’t good enough for “those who had tasted the rich wines of Italy and . . . sighed for that more delicious species of intoxication.”

To top it off, the Huns, unlike Rome’s Christian emperors, were not on the anti-gay bandwagon, but practiced a warrior homosexuality, according to some scholars.
That’s right – a “warrior homosexuality”, just like so many other militaristic societies, where male love in the ranks was par for the course, if not obligatory. So much for the DADT argument that accepting gay soldiers would weaken military effectiveness.
All this is fun stuff – but he is softening us up for a really important point – that attacks on the queer community are frequently made by accusing us of the crimes and failings of our opponents. This is most clearly illustrated in the case of adoption. Whereas the opponents are loud in their insistence that all children need both a mother and a father, and that only a  mother and a father can offer the required degree of love and care – the overwhelming majority of children needing adoptive parents do so precisely because they have been let down by their own biological mom and pop.

Look at gay adoption, long opposed by the faithful on the premise that gays shouldn’t be allowed around children, even their own.

Where did all these kids in need of adoption come from – Oh right, that would be from heterosexual couples who so completely failed their children that they were seized by the state. And what about the gays who want to adopt them – Any equal fault, any evidence that they provide less of a home than any other adoptive family – Here’s a hint: No.

But just in case any reader mistakes his argument for a reason to abandon the Christian faith, he closes with a final reminder:

The truth is that societies are complex; all have good and bad qualities. I can savor the wit and intelligence of Roman times while recognizing that they were slave-owners capable of the most staggering cruelties. To fault Ancient Rome for coddling gays is like blaming the Nazis for bad civic art.
That Christianity has been a scourge to gays is without doubt. The question now: Is that intrinsic to the faith – Given the many — gay and straight alike — who say it is not, who focus on the love, tolerance, grace, and human dignity that Christianity offers, those who insist it must be and flail against gay citizens are reading from an uncorrected text.
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Irish Civil Partnership Bill Signed.


Irish President Mary McAleese has signed into law the provision of Civil Partnerships, which will provide Irish gay and lesbian couples with a legal status almost identical to that of heterosexual married couples – but not adoption rights. This is very similar to the UK Civil Partnership legislation. That too does not cover adoption, which was provided for separately.


In this deeply Catholic country, the legislation was strongly opposed by the Catholic bishops – who lost badly, It is notable that this legislation was not just passed, but warmly welcomed by the Justice Minster as “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation …  since independence”  



Signing into law of new civil Bill welcomed


THE SIGNING into law yesterday of the Civil Partnership Bill was welcomed across the political spectrum and also by groups that have campaigned for legal recognition for same-sex couples in Ireland.

The Bill was signed into law by President Mary McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday morning.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said it was “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation to be enacted since independence”.

The Green Party’s justice spokesman Trevor Sargent also warmly welcomed the development, describing it as a significant step forward and a stepping stone towards greater equality in society.

While the Bill has now been enacted, it cannot fully commence until commensurate changes take place in social welfare, tax and pensions legislation.

Those changes are likely to be made in the Finance Bill and Social Welfare Bill drafted following December’s budget.

The changes will pave the way for the first civil partnership registrations to take place in January next year.



-(Full report from the Irish Times)

In Vermont, 10 Years of Civil Unions

It is now 10 years since the start of legal recognition for same sex unions in Vermont, just 11 years after a comparable start in Denmark. For a time, both Vermont in the US and Denmark internationally were seen as remarkable exceptions: idiosyncracies in that were unlikely to be emulated in more mainstream states and nations. However, after some initial delay, and increasing number of others followed, and even upped the game. 

MONTPELIER, Vt.—When Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh were joined in civil union 10 years ago Thursday, some of their friends didn’t come for fear they’d lose their jobs, and the church asked that plainclothes police officers attend the ceremony in case there was trouble.

A decade later, Vermont and four other states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia—have instituted full marriage for same-sex couples, and the Burlington couple say many people view their relationship as “ho-hum.”

Vermont was the first jurisdiction in the country to offer most of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. Massachusetts instituted full same-sex marriage in 2004 in response to a state court’s order. Last year, Vermont’s Legislature became the first to approve full marriage for those couples without a court’s prompting.

“At the time, civil unions were so radical,” Farnham said this week. “Now it’s the fallback, conservative issue.”

What has been remarkable in recent years though, is how quickly, after the slow beginning, the idea has spread. In Europe, almost all countries have or are planning some form of provision for same sex partnerships, and seven have already upgraded to full marriage, with more on the way. In the US, early progress towards marriage equality was meet with a strong political backlash, but even here progress has been substantial and is accelerating.

Even with the heartbreaking ballot losses in California and Maine, five states now have full state level provision for marriage equality, and many more states and even cities have local provision for varying grades of partnership recognition, from simple registration of domestic partnerships, to strong unions which are “marriage in everything but name”. On the other hand, the political push against equality appears to have run out of steam: in Iowa, the NOM made highly visible donations to promote the primary elections campaigns of marriage foes – and lost badly. In this year’s mid-terms, there are no new states with anti-marriage ballot initiatives, while it’s a fair bet that in 2010 California will be the first state to have a ballot question to remove restrictions on marriage – which is likely to be successful. Other states will follow.

It is also arguable that the fight for marriage equality, while i has been slow, has been a catalyst for many other, lower profile moves which have been finding it easier to gain public acceptance, and which are now bearing fruit in national, state and local government, and in private businesses. 
All big movements build gradually, with small incremental gains increasing over time. However, there are also major landmarks along the way to add impetus and momentum. Stonewall was one of the major landmarks on the route to LGBT equality. Vermont’s civil union legislation was another. Let us all join in congratulations, and thanks, to the small state of Vermont for the giant contribution of their vision and foresight.