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Pets. Not Partners

I don’t even know what to say when I hear news like this. What’s there to say when a body basically gays gays are lower than dogs by offering health benefits to pets but not domestic partners?

When trustees of Palm Beach Community College reached a tie vote in August on a proposal to offer health insurance for the domestic partners of employees, the measure failed and advocates for gay professors and other employees were disappointed. Because the college only pays for employees’ benefits, the proposal wouldn’t have cost the college a penny, but would have opened up quality insurance at a lower cost for the partners of gay and lesbian employees.

Now – in a move that is seen as adding salt to those wounds – the college has added a new health insurance benefit for some (unmarried) household members of employees: pet health insurance. All employees were told that they would get a 5 percent discount and group rates on a health insurance plans for their pets. A range of plans are offered, covering wellness care, vaccinations, X-rays, surgery and hospitalization (although pre-existing conditions may not be covered).

“Your pet is a member of your family – his quality of life is important to you,” says the promotional material from the veterinary insurance company.

Your pet is a member of your family, but your partner is not? Basically, yes.

The QueerlyKos round-up also mentioned the brouhaha Condoleeza Rice called when she acknowledged AIDS czar Jeff Dybul’s partner and “mother-in-law” at his swearing in. Technically Dybul’s partner’s mother can’t be his mother in law, because Dybul and his partner can’t have a legally recognized relationship that would make them anything in law but two separate people sharing a roof, etc.

In other words, a “nonfamily.” In the legal sense, at least, though heterosexual “nonfamilies” pretty much always have the option to marry receive the benefits and protections afforded based on marital status. In other words, they’re only missing a piece of paper that they could easily obtain if they so choose. (And it will be argued that “gays can get married, if they just marry a member of the opposite sex”; which essentially means they have to significantly alter the make-up of their families. Something heterosexuals don’t have to do.)

But that brings up the question of what exactly makes a family? Is it legally little more than a marriage certificate? What the article doesn’t mention is what roles the couples labeled “nonfamily” play in one another’s lives. It’s likely they do the same things that married couples do, from supporting one another financially to taking care of each other through illness, even raising children together and caring for one another in old age; all things that could be included in a conservative case for same-sex marriage.

The argument about caregiving is also a very conservative one. As [Jonathan] Rauch points out, “from society’s point of view, an unattached person is an accident waiting to happen. The burdens of contingency are likely to fall, immediately and sometimes crushingly, on people – relatives, friends, neighbours – who have enough problems of their own, and then on charities and welfare agencies. We all suffer periods of illness, sadness, distress, fury. What happens to us, and what happens to the people around us, when we desperately need a hand but find none to hold? If marriage has any meaning at all, it is that when you collapse from a stroke, there will be another person whose ‘job’ it is to drop everything and come to your aid. Or that when you come home after being fired, there will be someone to talk you out of committing a massacre or killing yourself. To be married is to know there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line”. Denying this option to gay couples places this burden of care on the state – how is this good conservative policy?”

If you want to know the shortcomings of domestic partnership, you have but to look at the story above and then remember Bobbie and Sandi Cote-Whitacre.

Marriage means something alright. I’ve posted countless times about it what happens to our families as a consequence of not having the rights and protections of marriage, and the sad truth is that there’s no shortage of those stories. Just yesterday I read about Bobbi and Sandi Cote-Whitacer and the shortcomings of civli unions.

Every time Bobbi Cote-Whitacre puts off a doctor’s visit or pays full price for prescription medicine, she’s reminded of the limitations of civil unions.

Cote-Whitacre’s health coverage ended when she retired to care for her ailing mother. Under Vermont law, Cote-Whitacre, 60, could have joined the health plan of her partner, Sandi Cote-Whitacre. But Sandi’s employer – the federal government – doesn’t recognize civil unions. So each month, Cote-Whitacre shells out nearly $175 for full-price prescription medicines. And she hopes that she’ll escape illness or injury.

In the seven years since Vermont became the first state to create civil unions, couples have uncovered countless ways in which same-sex unions differ from heterosexual marriage. Because the federal government doesn’t acknowledge civil unions, same-sex couples miss out on the federal benefits afforded heterosexual married couples. And because many states have conflicting laws, a couple’s rights can evaporate when they cross the state line.

“Even though it’s touted as being the same, it’s not,” said Mary Bouvier of Jeffersonville, Vt., who established a civil union in 2000 with her longtime partner, Moira Donovan. “Once we got our civil union, if anything happened to either one of us in this state, we were great. But if we were in another state, it didn’t have to be recognized.”

“In a lot of ways, it hasn’t affected us as necessarily a benefit,” Bouvier said.

Sandi Cote-Whitacre, if she worked for Palm Beach Community College would have to deal with the reality that while her partner is shelling out full price for prescriptions, her co-worker’s dog or cat is likely getting a much better deal on meds, with a reasonable co-pay.

The news from Palm Beach Community College reminds me of the title of an old Cher song, “I Wouldn’t Treat a God the Way You Treated Me.”

And apparently, when it comes to same-sex couples, they wouldn’t.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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