TORONTO — It seems odd to tell people they are now free, under the law, to have romantic and sexual relationships, but that others would prefer that they still can't get married. Even after 5, 10, 20, 30 years together. Such is the current reality facing homosexuals in the US.
The Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas last month gave homosexuals a boost to their right to live a private life as they see fit, while at the same time highlighting in what way that right stands a little bit short of the finish line.
Gay marriages are legal in Belgium and the Netherlands, and were recently legalized in the Canadian province of Ontario. Other provinces have followed suit, and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has announced he will draft a bill giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages throughout Canada. In the US, only Vermont recognizes "civil unions" between same-sex couples, giving them many of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, but calling this rose by another name. Opponents of gay marriage may ask, what's in a name, after all? Large corporations increasingly are offering benefits to gay partners, and more and more communities are seeing firsthand that the gay couple next door with the 2.3 kids and the Lab and the minivan is not unlike their own family.
Surely relative acceptance and "commitment ceremonies" and shared health insurance ought to be enough, no?
Well, no. If someone decided blue-eyed people couldn't have "marriage," but would be marginalized with only a "civil union," I'd be mighty angry. Because there is growing evidence suggesting that gay people no more choose to be gay than I chose to have blue eyes.
But our governments are here - in theory, anyway - to represent all of us, to give all constituents equal importance, to give us equal rights. Which makes Senate majority leader Bill Frist's comments supporting an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriages puzzling. "I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament," said the Tennessee Republican.
As far as I know, marriage is a sacrament only in the Roman Catholic, High Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Protestants generally don't regard it as such. And what of the many US citizens who are Sikh, Jewish, or Muslim? What about atheists? Will their marriages not be recognized?
Western nations are supposed to be secularly run societies, living by a separation of church and state. For a church to refuse to recognize gay marriage is its own business, and ought to be respected. But if you don't like it, don't join that church. Or join another. I see no contradiction in a society where both gay marriage and freedom to voice opposition to gay marriage coexist.
I often feel the natural place for a gay person is on the right. Conservatives should be all about an individual's right to his or her own life, his or her own business, without the interference of hypersensitive, offended others. And it follows that true conservatives ought to support gay marriage, particularly those partial to family values. It's difficult to argue that society doesn't benefit from stable relationships. And what better way to encourage stable relationships than to support gay marriage? It is hard not to snicker at the idea that same-sex marriages would threaten straight ones. We straight people in Canada and the US have done a good job of bringing the divorce rate close to 50 percent all on our own.
Rather than weaken straight marriages, gay marriages may strengthen them.
Being gay is not, I imagine, simply about sex. When a gay man mentions his boyfriend, he's not flaunting his sexuality, as the accusation often goes, any more than I am when I mention mine. Being a homosexual is, I would guess, about most of the things being a heterosexual is about, including the pain and joy of being in love.
And why, oh why, should only straight people suffer through the family fights, expense, pettiness, grudges, and stress of planning a wedding?
• Rondi Adamson's conservative social commentary appears frequently in the Canadian press.