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Ask Auntie Pinko
May 27, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

Well, a bunch of gay couples got married in Massachusetts this week. Can we expect the Rapture before the end of the month? I'm asking because I haven't actually noticed the seas filling with blood and the rain turning to fire and stuff, although I could just not be looking in the right places. But anyway if there is going to be an apocalypse, I'd like to trade in my SUV on something a little more politically correct to impress the Recording Angel. Otherwise, is there any reason I should care about this?

Marty L.
Chama, NM

Dear Marty,

Auntie thinks you're being just a wee bit facetious, but I certainly take your point. And I tend to agree with you. For the overwhelmingly huge majority of Americans, the practical difference made by gay couples "marrying" in Massachusetts will be somewhere between negligible and nil.

Nevertheless, Marty, this is an important landmark in American history for a number of reasons. While the effects might not be noticeable to most of us right away, over time the ripples are likely to spread out in ways that touch us all - and I don't mean just by turning up the volume on the protests of the irreconcilable religious fundamentalists.

While it's possible that Mr. Bush's campaign advisors will downplay the issue of the proposed Constitutional Amendment to ban gay unions, the proposal is on the table, and it will keep coming back, like a bad penny. If there is a silver lining to this cloud, perhaps it will be in provoking the larger discussion of amending the Constitution as a social engineering tool (generally a bad idea, in my opinion - even where it concerns some goals dear to the liberal heart.) No matter where you stand on the issue, it needs a lot of discussion and scrutiny that it isn't really getting right now.

It might also re-animate a broader discussion of states' rights. Traditionally, this has been the conservative bastion, but in the context of this issue it might provoke some judges to re-examine their views. It would be very helpful to remove the "states' rights" stick from the hand of the GOP and turn it back into a legitimate issue with implications that touch both ends of the ideological spectrum.

Auntie Pinko would also like to see this begin a larger review of the public policy implications of "marriage" and the state's role in defining and promoting the institution. I believe that the state has a vested interest in encouraging adults to form stable partnerships that share economic interests and provide for the well-being of couples and their children. This is currently entwined with religious notions about the sacramental and/or spiritual nature of such commitments, and the rights of churches to enforce their deeply-held beliefs. Perhaps a larger dialogue would help us understand and separate the social ends of forming families from the religious nature of marriage and family commitments.

The next step might force us to better define our nation's values when it comes to using the mechanisms of law to promote socially desirable policy. The dialogue on individual rights and equal opportunities, versus community rights and protecting vulnerable minorities is long overdue for rejuvenation and new areas of discussion. In the long run, that could have tremendous implications for everyone, gay or straight.

Since this is such an important issue to a fairly large number of Americans, it is also bound to have an impact on the upcoming election, whether the candidates want it to or not. Just how far will Mr. Bush have to go to placate the extreme social conservatives in his base? And if he does so, how will this affect a large middle group of Americans who don't especially like the idea of gay marriage but get "turned off" by extremism and bigotry?

And in the mean time, Marty, while it may not mean a lot to you, there are a good many families that are rejoicing in the happiness of their sons and daughters, not to mention couples planning futures together. So there are plenty of reasons to care, no matter which side of the debate you favor. And thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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