Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators means these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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This shouldn’t be a provocative question, but sadly it will be: Why is an act that, timewise, takes up a tiny part of our existence such a huge factor in how we’re defined? Yes, this is about sex. When you strip away (pun intended) all the dogma, you are left with an activity that doesn’t come close to consuming our schedule in the way that commuting or shopping or other day-to-day mundania do.

Gay mania seems hard-wired into so many people’s procreative reflexes. But analysis demonstrates that we, as a society, finally are plodding away from this primitive revulsion to what we like to call “alternative lifestyles,” a term that betrays an overemphasis on the brief moments spent partaking in it. A 1996 Gallup poll found that only 27 percent of respondents favored a right to same-sex marriage. Gallup’s most recent shows majority acceptance. It’s simply the latest to do so. The various prominent surveys indicate an even higher level of support for civil unions; more than six-in-10 are for the concept.

Non-heterosexuality remains a perilous flash point, because of those who can’t get past their oppressive passions. In mid-May, the Minnesota Legislature found it politically necessary to offer on the 2012 ballot an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.

On the other side of the debate, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to appeal to the conscience of state senators to stop avoiding the issue, chiding: “Do you want to be remembered as a leader on civil rights? Or an obstructionist?” He’s pushing them to tackle a bill that would permit gay marriage, as the laws now do in five states and the District of Columbia.

At the same time, the Rhode Island House of Representatives has passed a bill granting civil-union rights to same-sex couples. Final passage would mean Rhode Island would join several other states choosing that approach — Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii joined the list this year. It’s the middle ground that, even with its legal protections, leaves many gays dissatisfied, since they contend it still makes them second-class citizens.

Maybe there’s an answer to that. What if state-sanctioned marriage, involving couples of any coupling persuasion, was taken out of the equation? What if all unions — with the rights, responsibilities and deductions — were recognized under the law. Marriage itself would be reserved for the religious or ceremonial in the venue of the couple’s choice, only as a supplement to the licensed binding relationship.

The idea would take some getting used to. For starters, traditionalists will scream bloody murder. There’s no answer for those who emphasize procreation, but marriage isn’t needed for that anyway. However, a lawful union does provide the stable framework for the child who needs one, whether natural-born or adopted.

Most importantly, universal recognition of all unions and preferences validates the movement ahead of our prehistoric seed-planting imperative. Not that the deep-seated frenzy surrounding all but he-she sex will go away. Even though the polls show that three-fourths of Americans believe that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy should be eliminated, and even though the law doing so passed last year, a Republican majority of the House Armed Service Committee passed a bill that would further delay the process of getting rid of the policy. Homophobes aren’t going down without a fight.

In one form or another, prejudice still rules and passion continues to be a damaging distraction. What a pity, since we need to concentrate on the substantial issues that affect how and where we lead the bulk of our lives. Those are the important public-policy matters — as opposed to the private ones, like what we do with whom, which are really incidental.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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