Saturday, February 14, 2009

Civil Unions

I'm mostly an onlooker when it comes to the practice of law, not having the requisite credentials to come before a judge in anyone's defense except maybe my own, but I've often wondered if a group of senior partners sufficiently skilled in navigating state codes, could safeguard assets, assign powers of attorney and so on, such that hospitals would have plenty of guidance regarding whom to consult in case of life and death decisions. Dependents would receive willed assets and so on. Transitions might occur relatively smoothly, with a minimum of fuss and bother.

Whether any of these partners were married or not, to each other or to people off camera, would not have to matter, as the contracts would be implemented as business relationships, not domestic partnership agreements.

Perhaps my theory breaks down if minors are involved and the partnership wants to devise some kind of kibbutz-like shared responsibility of a care giving nature. Even if the roles are crystal clear within the "compound", judges have limited patience for any but a few cultural templates and overly creative lawyers tend to give the profession a bad name, or so I would surmise. On the other hand, the cultural template in question might be well established and some thousands of years old.

Thinking of my own case, my first legal agreements with my future spouse were of a business-like nature and based on internally devised codes. I wasn't at that time aware of Ed Applewhite's daughter's work in the area of civil contracting among unmarried individuals, but that's the ballpark we were in, not yet having certified anything with the state regarding our marital status. Had we both been of the same gender, certifying with the state as "married" wouldn't have been an option in any case in 1990, although we could have registered our template with the Quakers (and later did so).

The difference between a "together law firm" bound by clear and definite agreements, and amorphous relationships of an unspecified nature, is when the latter come under duress, because of illness or financial hardship, the surrounding society has no clear "operating manual" and can't easily sort out the disposition of assets.

Encouraging clear and sharable codes is what the "open source" movement is all about in engineering circles, where the word "template" also applies. Given Oregonians have a lot of liberal receptivity to FOSS, it wouldn't surprise me to see "together engineering firms" taking a similar path in future.