Washington's little firestorm around same-sex marriage has died down. But it shouldn't recede from the public's consciousness before we acknowledge its most dangerous aspect.
Critics have said that the proposal by the president and Congressional Republicans for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was a blatant political move, designed to placate the Religious Right. No doubt that was the intent for some. And, no doubt, for others the support for an amendment grew out of deeply held religious conviction.
But neither group of supporters can avoid a serious truth: this was not only an attempt to write discrimination into the constitution, but it was also an open appeal to divisiveness, to homophobia, and, most seriously, to fear and hatred.
Supporters of the same-sex-marriage amendment insist that they're not bigoted, that they're trying to protect families and the institution of marriage. But clearly it is an abhorrence of homosexuality --- not a concern for family stability --- that is driving this.
Marriage is not simply a legal document conferring certain rights and privileges. It's a commitment that binds two people together, a bond that can help couples weather difficulties they scarcely imagine when they say their vows.
The same-sex couples I've talked with want the rights that marriage provides, to be sure. But they want more than that. They want the bond that the institution of marriage provides. They want a healthy, stable, lifelong relationship --- something more profound, something to which they have more publicly committed, than "living together."
These couples embrace the family values that same-sex-marriage opponents say they want to protect. To support same-sex marriage is to be pro marriage. Pro family.
The opponents, repelled by homosexuality, will have none of that. And their revulsion, cloaked in biblical quotations, continues to set homosexuals apart from other Americans.
Education can counter homophobia, and there have been indications that the public's understanding and acceptance have been increasing, particularly among younger Americans. But the actions of the president and the Republican leadership in Congress can overwhelm the voice of reason.
When public officials not only embrace homophobia but promote it, they do more than court the support of religious fundamentalists. They fan the fear and hatred of extremists, of which this country has plenty.
JROTC in the schools
Rochester's tradition of activism continues on its healthy way. And at next week's School Board meeting, there'll be another demonstration of that.
Opponents of Junior ROTC programs in city schools say they'll be on hand to voice their concerns.
Supporters of JROTC make some strong arguments. The program instills discipline, they say. Students become involved in community service. All good stuff, of course.
But seriously, folks: there are other ways to teach these things. And we need to find them.
The School Board ought to listen closely to what the JROTC opponents are saying. Violence is a deadly serious problem in Rochester. The military teaches violence as a way to solve problems.
I'm not arguing that the United States shouldn't have armed forces. But I think those joining the military should know what they're getting into. And I think they should have more than one career option.
Many young people need jobs. Many also need to learn discipline, cooperation, and communication skills. What does it say about us --- the school district, the public --- that we turn to the military to provide those things?