Civil unions are a step forward

The land of freedom and equality has just started living up to its name again.

New Jersey started offering civil unions to gay and lesbian couples Monday. Not only will it give gay and lesbian couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples, the legislation will recognize civil unions from other states and nations.

Those who are joined in a civil union will gain the right to adoption, child custody, visiting of a partner in a hospital and making medical decisions for their partner. Gay and lesbian couples aren’t the only ones who can benefit from this. Straight couples can be joined in a civil union as well. Essentially, this is marriage without the religion.

It’s very moving to see a growing number of people realizing and openly recognizing that gay and lesbian relationships are as much about love as straight relationships, and they are entitled to the same rights straight couples enjoy. Too often the sexual aspects of these relationships are the focus of the arguments instead of what marriage and civil unions are really about: love.

This legislation isn’t the end. Civil unions, while an important step forward, are still few and far between. New Jersey is only the third state to offer civil unions. That leaves 47 other states that need to catch up. On top of that, the federal government and most other states, including Ohio, won’t even recognize a civil union from another state.

A civil union isn’t a marriage, which has some activist groups and the American Civil Liberties Union upset. They say the civil unions are a step back to the “separate but equal” days. The similarities here are rather striking, but the opportunity to afford gay and lesbian couples the same rights as straight couples is too good to pass up. Legally recognizing a same-sex partner is a gigantic step forward for the equal rights movement.

Civil unions should by no means be the stopping point. This victory for the LGBT community shows progress, albeit slow, in our society. The main focus shouldn’t be the government. The American people need a better understanding of the LGBT community. Stereotypes and myths overshadow the truth about homosexuality and they stand in the way of equality.

Once our society understands and supports equal rights, more and more state legislators and courts will see the light and come around. The federal government will soon follow. But it takes time.

We know many gay and lesbian couples want complete equal standing with straight couples throughout America right now. We understand why. They have as much love for each other as straight couples do and should be treated the same. It seems like such a basic right to have, to be allowed to marry the one you love, that banning it is shocking.

We need to be realistic, though. Unfortunately, as history shows, our society can take a while to change. It will change, though. The fight for more civil union legislation in other states will go on. It will take years and incredible amounts of effort, patience and understanding. But it will be worth it.

If you gain nothing else from reading this, remember that marriage is about love.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.