by David Giffels
Akron Beacon Journal
Feb. 26, 2004

Gay marriage ruined my Fat Tuesday.

The kids were tucked into bed, and my wife and I sat down to our jambalaya, an annual ritual that, in our house, tends to strengthen the institution of marriage, as we share a meal and conversation. But in this case, the conversation quickly careened into the spicy issue du jour: President Bush's announcement that he will support what amounts to a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

And soon we were having an argument about a subject we basically agree on.

That took me by surprise, but I realized after we were done that our argument was a version of the national debate. That is, homosexuality is such a loaded topic that it's nearly impossible to focus on the specific. Shouting quickly overtakes reason.

I don't oppose gay marriage. But that's not even the point. What concerns me is a constitutional amendment that, in essence, would write discrimination into a document whose previous amendments have helped remove discrimination. That worries me far more than who's sleeping with whom.

The Constitution has been changed in the past to allow women to vote, and to make slaves free, and to open voting to all races. Those statements have supported the quintessential notion of America as a ``melting pot'' where all types of people are respected.

We don't have to go back very far to find a parallel debate about the morality of interracial marriage, one that now seems laughable at best and shameful at worst.

What is now being presented as the fundamental challenge to the most basic building block of American society is fuzzy, because the institutions of marriage and family are fuzzy. I can step out my own front door and be confused. I am surrounded by American families, and none of them supports a common definition.

One is a longtime married couple with no children.

One is a divorced woman and her second husband, raising her children from the previous marriage.

One is a single mom.

One is an unmarried couple living together.

All of them are American families. None of them is ``nuclear,'' yet together they form a neighborhood that connects with other neighborhoods that make up a community that eventually extends into a nation.

To marginalize one aspect of that culture through a constitutional amendment is to draw a line in an otherwise shifting sand, and that smacks of hypocrisy.

It's easier for me to understand two gay people who want to get married than it is for me to understand, say, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?

That show, and plenty of others, makes a mockery of marriage, and yet it is accepted as an evening's entertainment. Britney Spears, the idol of millions of American girls (some of whom will grow up to become American wives), got married and unmarried in the span of two days and wrote it off as a silly mistake.

Divorce is an unregulated cancer on marriage, but imagine the outcry if the federal government were to declare it unconstitutional.

There are Hollywood marriages, marriages of convenience, trophy wives and trophy husbands. The fact that these unions are between a man and a woman does nothing to uphold the sanctity of the institution.

Anyone who's fought as hard as gay people for the right to be married will more likely hold the institution in reverence. The real threats to American marriage come from heterosexual people who take it for granted and run roughshod over it. Gender of the partners seems the least of the concerns.

So, no, I don't think homosexuality threatens American marriage. But all this shouting might. So I'm planning to reheat the leftover jambalaya, mend fences and do my part to strengthen the institution.

David Giffels' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 330-996-3572 or at