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  Toni Guinyard>> The debate over gay marriages has placed the State of California right at the center of the media spotlight. So much attention is being placed on it that other issues are being ignored, including equal rights for unmarried people. We spoke with the Executive Director of Unmarried America who shared his thoughts and concerns with Life and Times.

Tom Coleman>> People, if they want to get married, that's great. That's up to them. Marriage is good for many people, not for everyone. There are many people who never get married, some who get divorced, some who become unmarried because the spouse dies. There are eighty-six million unmarried Americans and it seems interesting to me that so many feel that, in order to get equal rights in this society, they have to get married. So you have this huge push from the gay community to -- not all, but a lot -- to get into the institution of marriage because we want our rights. Our position is that equal rights should not depend on marital status, that the promise of equality applies to everyone regardless of marital status.

Toni Guinyard>> But is your argument being heard? I've heard a lot and everyone has heard a lot about gay marriages taking place, but I hear very little about this unmarried movement.

Tom Coleman>> Right. It's not as sexy an issue as gay marriage. Gay marriage is a hot-button item. It's being used in the presidential arena, the election, as a nice hot topic to try and trap people into one position or another for political advantage and so on. The media loves it. It's a darling of the media because it's interesting and it's emotional. Whereas unmarried America, it's a long, slow, steady process of trying to gain equal rights. The percentage of households, for example, that are headed by unmarried people is increasing. It used to be around the 1950's about seventy-eight percent of all households were headed by married couples. That has changed and changed and changed and now we're like fifty-fifty. Half of the households in the nation are headed by unmarried people.

There's one other reason I think that gay marriage is in the forefront and equal rights for unmarried people is not in the forefront. That's the emotional part of it and the political dimension on the part of those fighting for it. The gay community is very politically organized and involved and have been pushing the marriage issue politically for a long time.

Unmarried people are going about their everyday lives. In being single or unmarried, most of them don't think of it as a political issue. It's a way of life, a way of being, you know? So we have to actually educate the single and unmarried people that they're being denied equal rights in the various ways in which they are because it's often so subtle or so ingrained in the system that people take it for granted.

The gay community is educated and polarized and in favor of and very politically charged. It's highly emotional and it's an exciting thing to be involved in. Unmarried America is a slow, ongoing, long process for gaining equality and it's not the sexy
issue of the moment.

There are eighty-six million unmarried Americans now, forty-two percent of the workforce is unmarried, and people have been slowly complaining, fighting back little by little, so that we see, for example, many employers are now shifting their work-family programs and calling them work-life programs and realizing that everyone has a life outside of work regardless of whether you have the traditional family or you're married or whatever. And more employers are going to cafeteria-style benefits plans where they're giving equal credits to all workers to be used for benefits, whatever they might need, and pick and choose regardless of their marital status or family configuration.

Many of the companies and municipalities that offer domestic partnership benefits limit them to same-sex couples. You know, that's great to give them to same-sex couples, but to say to heterosexual individuals that you must marry in order to gain
equal pay at work or to gain equal rights or to gain fair taxation or to have fairness in your insurance premiums for automobile or other insurance, it's wrong to say that to people. Whereas, you know, giving domestic partnership benefits, if you're going to do it, it should be open to heterosexual and gay domestic partners.

We actually do see more of a trend now toward gender-neutral inclusive domestic partnerships, but we're talking not just about couples here and not just about romantic relationships.

Our movement in Unmarried America is designed to help the individuals, the couples and the families. People who live alone should be getting equal pay at work, not just those who are couples. A single parent, for example, who has an adult child living at home, should be able to put that adult child on her health benefits plan at work. The fact that they're not a gay couple or they're not in a romantic relationship should have
no bearing on it.

Toni Guinyard>> Are you married?

Tom Coleman>> No, I'm not.

Toni Guinyard>> Have you ever been married?

Tom Coleman>> No, I haven't been married.

Toni Guinyard>> Why?

Tom Coleman>> Well, I have a domestic partner. We had a commitment ceremony and all of that, but as far as marriage, you know, I think it's too overrated in terms of --

Toni Guinyard>> -- I've heard that before.

Tom Coleman>> Yeah, it is. I think it does not convey a notion of equality. Domestic partnership, which is what we are, registered domestic partners, -- the term partnership even in the terminology conveys equality.

Partners. We're partners in life.

You start using old-fashioned terms that sound nice and, you know, frilly and lovely and all of that, but there is some type of connotation that's been built into it of inequality and I say, you know, in the vanguard, let's do domestic partnership
and someday it will all be domestic partnership.

We've heard people saying, gee, maybe marriage should be left to the churches and that the government should only be dealing with domestic partnerships or civil unions, something secular. I think that's something that we may be heading in that direction.

We're gaining momentum, but it's a slow, steady battle. That's okay. You know, someday you or somebody else will be interviewing me when I'm older and grayer and I'm barely able to get out of my rocking chair and I'll probably still be in it and
we may still be fighting for equality, but I'm in it for the long haul.

Toni Guinyard>> Tom Coleman, I will be there to do that interview with you, and thank you so much for spending a little time with Life and Times.

Tom Coleman>> Thank you very much.

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