Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 6, 2014

Those opposed to social change always invent big horror stories

— — Last month, my wife and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary, but it’s not clear to me what (if any) name this anniversary has.

Certainly, it’s not golden or silver. Maybe it’s something suitably romantic for our domestic situation, such as the linoleum anniversary or the kitchen appliances anniversary.

All I can say is that we are continuing to be happily married, despite the many challenges of married life. For example, she has observed that I am a poor driver and speak with my mouth full at the dinner table. This is nonsense, of course, and I would refute these charges if only my mouth weren’t full.

But late last month, a new challenge to our marriage arose. A federal judge ruled that gay couples would be allowed to marry in Pennsylvania. Previously, marriage was defined by law in the traditional way as being between one man with his mouth full and one woman who points it out.

But U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, an appointee of President George W. Bush, found the law banning same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. To those of you who are new to the commonwealth or live somewhere where the 19th century and its social customs have already lifted, you cannot imagine how extraordinary this news was.

You could have knocked people over with a feather. In fact, people made a point of not walking near poultry farms in case a stray feather felled them in their tracks. Gay marriage in socially conservative Pennsylvania? Get-outta-here!

But it happened — and I say thank goodness for the triumph of logic, which is something that doesn’t happen nearly enough. It was plainly ridiculous that heterosexuals could get married and divorced multiple times, in ceremonies perhaps featuring Elvis impersonators, and the sanctity of marriage would be preserved, yet that wouldn’t be the case if a gay couple attempted the same thing.

Immediately after the judge’s ruling, however, long-married people like myself were put on alert. After all, we had been warned.

As advanced by various moralizers and self-righteous busybodies, one argument against gay marriage was that the very existence of marriage would be subverted if same-sex couples became eligible to wed. It was certainly frightening to think that my own marriage would be imperiled after my wife’s years of effort to bring me to a state of perfection, a work obviously still in progress.

But now a couple of weeks have passed and things are remarkably calm and undisturbed. On my dutiful stroll to take the trash out, in the time-honored way of husbands, I find that the bins are not full of torn moral fiber or ripped social fabric.

On the street, there are no obvious signs of moral decay, just common domesticity as usual. And further afield, instead of general sadness there’s joy among those long excluded from one of the fundamental rights of ordinary Americans and deprived no more.

The news from Pennsylvania is that there is no news. Most people don’t much care. The extraordinary has become ordinary. My marriage is no more threatened by gays being wed than it is by the threat of aliens coming down in space ships and tempting my wife by driving better, in this or any galaxy, and not speaking with their tentacles full.

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised. Those opposed to progressive social change have always invented horror stories that inevitably don’t come true. Get the kids out of the mines and they will become hopelessly spoiled. Let the women vote and they will have no judgment. Pass Social Security and the elderly will become idle in their golden years. Pass universal health care and the nation will be lost.

So much for all of that. So many horror stories, so little actual horror. If only some of these conservative guardians would speak with mouths full at the dinner table, they wouldn’t be able to fit a foot in their mouths. As it is, future generations will marvel that conservatism was here defined as denying some Americans basic rights.

It’s not that gay marriage has been universally accepted throughout the United States; not even a majority of states have it and the U.S. Supreme Court has only partially approved it. But if stodgy old Pennsylvania can do it, any state can, and that’s enough for me to celebrate. They called a culture war and the culture of greater freedom won. Congratulations to all the newlyweds who have benefited. I hope you stay happily married until your kitchen appliance anniversary.

Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Readers may email him at rhenry@post-gazette.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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