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Defining--or redefining--marriage is not an easy thing to accomplish

OK, the holidays are over, and it's time to get back to reality. As I wrote in an earlier column, I reacted to the election by tuning out for a while. No talk radio, no Fox "News" Channel, no Wall Street Journal. I listened to music in the car and watched Hoosiers a couple hundred times.

Ignorance is indeed bliss. But in these times, being blissful is downright ignorant. It's time for all of us to get back at it, no matter how battered and bruised, no matter how stunned, no matter how angry.

I went back and read the analysis of why Bush won the election, what Kerry had done wrong and what Karl Rove had done right. I'm sorry, but it made no sense to me. Ohioans are out of work in record numbers? Hey, let's vote for the guy who got us this way!

The middle class is getting pummeled by the ripple effects of Bush's tax cuts for the rich? Wow, let's vote for him again, and maybe he'll hit us one mo' 'gain. The poorly equipped military is being put in harm's way for selfish political reasons? Let's support the commander in chief in record numbers. It makes no sense, but that's where we are.

On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart summed up the election by saying, "The majority of the country believes that the country is heading in the wrong direction, that we shouldn't be in Iraq, that the war is going badly, and that the economy is in trouble, but apparently, that's all trumped by the thought of two guys kissing."

That's funny, and maybe somewhat insightful. I've wondered a lot about how much that was in the back of people's heads. Columnist Charles Krauthammer presented voting data to argue that the gay marriage issue wasn't the election-turner that many people may have originally thought, but it certainly didn't hurt Bush's cause.

There's an old saying that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Apparently, there aren't a whole lot of liberals in the polling booth, either. Most people have a sense of right and wrong, but just as liberals don't want to be force-fed somebody else's concept of morality, conservatives don't want to be forced into somebody else's version of open-mindedness. People come to things in their own time.

At the risk of being kicked out of the club, I'll admit right here and now that I'm still wrestling with the use of the word "marriage" when it comes to gay unions. Oddly enough, as a writer, words mean something to me, and having been married for 25 years, I have a definition of "marriage" in my head that might not match some other people's concept.

I was talking to a gay friend of mine (also named Tom) about this, and we had a good old argument about it. I said that a solid majority of Americans probably support full rights for gay couples, but that many of those people bristle at the thought of expanding (or, depending on one's outlook, completely changing) the definition of the word "marriage." What would be so wrong with defining "marriage" as the legal (and/or spiritual) union of one adult man and one adult woman?

He said that it would be exclusionary and that it was inherently anti-gay. OK, what happens if "marriage" becomes defined as whatever you want it to be, and all of a sudden, Bubba wants to marry his 13-year-old nephew?

He said that was a specious argument, not worthy of a response. I pointed out that there are certainly people in this country (fortunately, there aren't a whole lot of those Man-Boy-love kooks running around) who believe that such a union should be, if not legal, at least outside the purview of the government. And for every 100 of those people, there might be one or two others who want to marry their goat.

Tom rejected that point and said, "No reasonable person would ever go for that," and then added that marriage should simply be the union of two adults. I said, "Then you would be the one defining the word, even though you hate the fact that other people are defining it at the moment."

This went on for a while, but then one of us referred to Bush as a body part, and we started laughing and changed the subject.

It's pretty obvious that if a "Marriage Definition as One Man and One Woman" referendum came up for a national vote, it would pass overwhelmingly. This doesn't mean that people are anti-gay. It just means that a lot of good, decent people aren't trapeze artists. They don't want to let go and fly through the air with just the hope of grabbing onto something else. Most people are monkey-bar folks who like to hold onto one bar while reaching for the next.

For those of us who have read 1984 and who lived through 2004, words either mean something, or they mean nothing. I'd prefer that they mean something, but if the definitions change, so be it.

Heck, just look what "weapons of mass destruction" turned out to mean.

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