by James P. Johnson

Recently my brother and I were talking politics and the discussion turned to gay marriage. My brother, who proudly calls himself a conservative, believes that if gay marriage were permitted, it would cause an unleashing of constraints.

"What would prevent a man from marrying his horse?" he asked.

I'm sure that betrothal between people and pets will not be an issue, but I pressed on.

"How are you injured," I asked my brother, "if here and there a household with a gay married couple exists?"

He could not answer directly, but instead used an example that implied that a violation of his sense of right and wrong is an imposition.

Now my brother seemed to acquiesce that denying two adults in love the right to marry is an imposition on them. However, he believes that being forced to accept it is a greater imposition, even if he has no contact with gay couples.

I'm not sure that denying someone freedom of choice solely on the basis that it doesn't sit well with another is justifiable. My brother also neglects to note that this imposition threatening him is already being perpetuated on gays. Many gay couples know that their partner is the right person for them. Getting married couldn't feel more right. But non-gays say it's wrong. This imposition is not just an idea; it denies them one of life's greatest moments.

So what to do? Is gay marriage right or wrong?

My brother pointed out that 11 states passed anti-gay marriage measures last November. "Overwhelmingly so," he added.

Then gay marriage is wrong because a majority believe it is. Is this how we should decide it?

We discussed the old days when American society believed a woman's domain was in the home, and she had no right to vote. What is now unthinkable, thanks to a few activists, was reversed. In the not-too-distant past, a large part of our country believed blacks were to defer to whites and conduct their business separately from them.

Do these examples mean the majority of Americans are wrong? No. But it doesn't necessarily mean that enacting majority views are always the most compassionate and equitable option.

Everyone has the right to offer his or her view on the direction our society should take. I'm doing so by writing this commentary. So is the pastor who sermonizes to her congregation, the activist who appears on TV. However, we should be mindful of our treatment of others. By outlawing gay marriage, we are telling gays that we do not accept them. A majority imposing restrictions on a minority breeds resentment, disharmony and anger. Is this the way to treat our fellow countrymen and women?

Some people invoke the phrase "God's laws" or "moral values" to defend their opposition to gay marriage.

Is the Bible but a rulebook (which often seems subject to interpretation) and the ultimate challenge of life is how well we follow it? By being forced to evaluate our beliefs and opinions, are we not faced with a greater spiritual challenge than following rules? Perhaps it's better to consider the Bible but one of many sources of guidance and wisdom that help us decide what to do.

I don't propose that gay marriage be immediately allowed. Nor should it be immediately banned. This is a new issue that we need to think about, discuss and take our time with.

Views and opinions from both sides should be considered, and each should put its feet into the shoes of the other. Certain churches active in opposition to gay rights could invite gays to speak so that each group can understand the other better. Only after we have fully evaluated the effects of any action should we do anything at all.

In the meantime, let's not demonize the other side. Imagine the people with whom you disagree are longtime next-door neighbors with whom you've shared tools, recipes and house-watching duty. Though it's a serious issue, let's stay respectful and have a sense of humor.

And in the future, as in the past, perhaps the unacceptable will become our new reality, and you may hear your son or daughter say, "Mom, Dad, I really enjoyed Uncle Kevin's wedding, but they should have done something about the ring. It took a long time for him to get it onto Nelly's hoof."

James P. Johnson lives in Spokane.

Publication date: 03/24/05

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