Domestic-partner benefits cheapen marriage

A column last week by Kris Henry (“Love your brother, not his boyfriend,” Oct. 17) contained several points that I, as a Christian, felt demanded a response.
The article basically amounted to a sarcastic and self-righteous screed against the so-called religious right, broadly criticizing various people because of their opposition to the University’s policy of extending health benefits to gay and lesbian employees’ domestic partners.
Although the impression was created that the article was an attack against “several Christian groups,” none of the “homophobic” 1994 student survey opinions quoted were even alleged to have been made by a Christian.
The one religious organization specifically named in Henry’s column, the American Family Association, was never explicitly accused of anything — though Henry’s ridiculing discussion clearly implied that the primary motive for AFA’s position against domestic-partner benefits is a lack of love. This view reflects, at best, an unusual and limited understanding of the idea of love. It might be quite possible to love a person while at the same time hoping fervently the person will change some personal habit. It is also possible to take some positive steps to encourage such change — or at least refrain from discouraging it.
Henry does not support her claim that the “several Christian groups” oppose domestic partner-benefits because “policies like these undermine their faith.” It has been my experience, to the contrary, that most Christians who hold such views do so for remarkably principled reasons, having little to do with fear or hatred. Traditional marriage — the lifelong monogamous union of husband and wife — is a unique and difficult responsibility that benefits society in countless ways. As the centerpiece of civilized life, it needs to be rewarded, upheld and set apart if it is to be properly practiced and understood.
The last thing our society should be doing, in an era of wide-spread divorce and promiscuity, is to further degrade and cheapen the special institution of marriage by shifting its natural boundaries and extending its benefits to those who refuse to live up to all of its rigorous demands.
The column also described supposedly discriminatory complications in applying for health benefits on behalf of one’s domestic partner. I would argue, however, that the difference between this involved process and the ease of applying for traditional spousal coverage simply reflects the inevitable practical difficulties of attempting to blur traditional moral boundaries. At the same time, the process protects and safeguards the University against the great potential for abuse that characterizes this socially experimental policy.
Heterosexual marriage, after all, has the natural advantage of having been around for quite some time — it is fairly well understood, legally defined and widely accepted. The emergent and ill-defined concept of homosexual “domestic partnership,” on the other hand, cries out for clarifications and limitations like those the University has adopted, which are outlined in Henry’s column. The obvious complications of filing for such benefits presumably result not from mean-spirited discrimination by the University, but from inherent difficulties of allowing such an unwise benefit at all.
I appreciate Henry’s willingness to express her strong feelings on such a controversial topic. Hopefully, those of us not of her persuasion will also continue to be heard in the open, accepting environment of the University of Minnesota.
David W. Fuller is a first-year law student.