Friday, July 27, 2007

Chuck and Larry Raises Interesting Questions

Should a sham domestic partnership be considered any differently than a sham marriage?

To most intelligent movie goers it probably seems unfortunate that the Wayans brothers have managed to turn "gay jokes" into a movie genre.

Adam Sandler and Kevin James, however, have struck a blow against the Scary Movie writing crew's vapid garbage with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, even managing to take down the once-omnipotent Harry Potter in the process.

More importantly, Chuck and Larry actually raises some very important questions regarding same-sex marriage.

In the film, Chuck Lavigne (Adam Sandler) finds himself in a very uncomfortable position when his best friend, Larry Valentine (Kevin James), asks him for an unwelcome favour in exchange for having saved his life. Larry, a widower with two children, has been having difficulty getting his children named as pension beneficiaries in the event of his potential death as a New York City fireman. Eventually, he cooks up a half-baked scheme: ask Chuck, who now owes him "anything, anywhere" as part of the fireman's code, to form a domestic partnership with him so that he can make Chuck his pension beneficiary, and responsible for the care of his children.

They quickly, however, find themselves subject to a witch hunt when the City of New York investigates the validity under their partnership. Under the advice of their "smokin' hot lawyer", Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel), they travel to Canada and get married in order to avoid being prosecuted for fraudulently abusing domestic partnership laws in order to reap the "legal benefits".

In the film, it is suggested that heterosexuals forming domestic partnerships (at least under the guise of being gay or lesbian partners) in order to do so are guilty of a fraudulent act. The City of New York then dispatch eccentric bloodhound Clint Fitzer (Steve Buscemi) to ascertain whether or not Chuck and Larry are a legitimate romantic couple.

They aren't. That's the entire premise of the movie. Yet, aside from its message of tolerance, the film provokes an interesting thought: since when do people have to be legitimate romantic partners to form a domestic partnership?

A domestic partnership could potentially be looked at as akin to marriage. In fact, in some jurisdictions (such as California) it is viewed as an equivalent to marriage.

In this sense, a domestic partnership is not a marriage, but is looked at as many as an attempt to satisfy the demands made by gays and lesbians for marriage rights (more properly described as a "privilege", but that's another story) that won't outrage conservative voters who are stringently against same-sex marriages.

Marriage, on one hand, requires some sort of romantic commitment at least in its popular definition, although there is no mention of this in the legal definition. Legally, a marriage is defined merely as a contract between two people of sufficient maturity to live jointly together, but is not necessarily invalid until it is consummated.

Domestic Partnerships, on the other hand, carry with them a seemingly more-stringent series of criteria, namely:

1. "The length of [partners'] relationship,
2. Nature and extent of common residence,
3. Whether or not [partners] have a sexual relationship,
4. How financially dependent [partners] are on each other and whether there are any arrangements between [them] for financial support,
5. [Partners'] ownership, use and acquisition of property,
6. [Partners'] degree of mutual commitment to a shared life,
7. The care and support of children,
8. The reputation and public aspects of the relationship"

As with a marriage, a domestic partnership may be consummated, though this is not necessarily a vital condition of the arrangement. If it's possible to have a marriage without a romantic involvement, it must be legal to have a domestic partnership without such an involvement as well.

In the case of Chuck and Larry, numerous criteria, namely, numbers one, four, seven and eight, are accounted for. Discrepencies related to numbers two, five and six could be immediately remedied.

As such, the witchhunt carried out against the two in the film could be construed as a grave injustice, and is portrayed as such in the film. It could also be seen as a double standard. After all, it isn't terribly likely that Anna Nicole Smith married J Howard Marshall for his sparkling good looks.

Yet, where was the witch hunt over Smith's marriage? She was even allowed to argue before the US Supreme court that she was entitled to an inheritance from Marshall's estate.

Simply put, there are plenty of sham marriages to be discussed. Yet, the film never addresses the potential validity of such relationships in the absence of a sexual relationship, instead defending it on the basis of whatever good it had done.

Whether or not sexual relations are an integral part of marriages or domestic partnerships remain as nebulous an issue as, say, same-sex marriage in regards to bisexuality.

But that's another issue.

Under all the layers of legal ambiguity, one thing becomes apparent: a domestic partnership could be used as a legal tool that meets needs that a marriage may not be necessary to meet. For example, in cases such as that posed by Chuck and Larry a domestic partnership could be used by two close friends to raise children as a joined domestic unit under extenuating circumstances.

One could even consider the plausibility of a member of this domestic partnership being elligible to marry outside the partnership. While seemingly an extremely complicating circumstance, the previous domestic partnership (not technically a marriage) would only be another financial matter that the partner's new spouse would, by necessity, be entering into.

Some would worry, however, that such arrangements would entail a defacto legalization of polygamy. And this is merely one more reason why clear distinctions need to be drawn between marriages (or civil unions) and domestic partnerships.

Otherwise, a simpler question could (and should) be asked: why bother separating the two at all?

It's in regards to the issue of domestic partnership that Chuck and Larry proves to be a good-deal more thought-provoking than any of Adam Sandler's other films, and it's highly worthwhile.

It may feature it's share of gay jokes, but at least the film is written around them, as opposed to exclusively consisting of them.

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