GAY MARRIAGE….A couple of days ago I suggested that gay marriage was “political dynamite” and that both Democrats and Republicans probably wanted to avoid the issue altogether. Writing in the Los Angeles Times today, Nick Anderson reports that this is exactly what they’re trying to do:

Bush and the major Democratic presidential candidates agree on a central point: They do not support granting same-sex couples the right to marry in the United States.

The Republican incumbent and most of the Democratic candidates also agree on something else: They would rather change the subject.

That may prove impossible. Pending court cases in Massachusetts and New Jersey are testing whether same-sex marriage should be legal in those states. Gay and lesbian couples have been trekking northward to Canada to wed since same-sex marriages became legal in that country last month. They are now returning to their homes in the United States, and many may soon be pressing for U.S. recognition of their Canadian status.

It’s ironic, really: after several months of suggesting that gay rights was a great subject for Democrats in 2004, the only gay rights issue that’s actually hit the mainstream is the very one that I sort of hoped would stay on the back burner.

Well, as Harold Macmillan said, the hardest part of politics is “events, dear boy, events,” and if this is the subject du jour, then it’s the subject du jour. So what to do about it?

It’s easy for me to say this, since I’m not the one running for president, but with gay marriage now on the table I think there’s only one principled stand for a candidate to take: this is a state matter and has nothing to do with me. Next question.

Heh heh, just kidding. Here’s what I’d really like to hear from a Democratic candidate who expects my vote:

  • I’m opposed to any kind of constitutional amendment or federal involvement in this issue.

  • Everyone needs to calm down. This is primarily a legal issue, not cultural Armageddon, and gays should have the same property rights, inheritance rights, etc. as anyone else.

  • States should be free to define marriage any way they wish, and other states should respect that.

In other words, I’d like to see someone have the courage to come out in favor of permitting gay marriage. But the key to acceptance, I think, is to try and reframe the issue: it’s not that big a deal, there’s really nothing to be afraid of, we should act like adults instead of unthinkingly giving in to inchoate fears of “ickiness,” and it’s fundamentally unfair to deny legal protections to gay couples and their children.

Sadly, I don’t expect to hear anything like this from any of the major candidates. Too bad.

UPDATE: In comments, Brent points to this NPR transcript in which Howard Dean comes within a whisker of saying the same thing as me:

Q: As governor of Vermont, you passed legislation legalizing civil unions between couples of the same sex. Would you recommend that to other states or propose it as a national policy?

DEAN: I would certainly recommend it to other states, but you can’t propose it as a national policy. I think the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and I think anything, any national civil unions act would be unconstitutional. That is not the prerogative of the federal government, that is the prerogative of the states. What I would do….is two things. First of all, if a state had a civil unions statute or a domestic partnership statute, we would recognize that federally so that people who enter into those arrangements can have the same legal rights at the federal level that I have: hospital visitation, insurance, inheritance rights, there are 1,500 rights that you can only have if you’re married and since gay people can’t get married that needs to be remedied, because I believe that every American ought to be equal under the law, and that’s what we do in Vermont.

I’m not sure how the gay community generally feels about this, but if “civil union” includes all the legal rights of marriage but is just called something else, then I’m fine with that. In popular parlance, it will become “marriage” pretty quickly.