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Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2004/ 14 Shevat 5764

Kathleen Parker

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Election '04: The tutu in the living room | The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court may have just handed the November election to George W. Bush.

By approving marriage between two people of the same sex, the state's highest court just shoved the mother of all wedge issues right under the fingernails of American voters and candidates. That scream you heard was Sen. John F. Kerry's.

Here he was riding a tsunami of support for his increasingly certain presidential candidacy against Bush and his own home state fires the one bullet this decorated war veteran may not be able to dodge. Give middle Americans a few months of bearded brides and nobody will remember what WMD stands for. (Women and Men, Duh?)

Why? Not because people are homophobic or even heterophilic. Most Americans, are tolerant, decent, caring people who want to be left alone and to leave others alone.

Indeed, 41 percent of Americans favor "civil unions," according to a Washington Post/ABC poll. Although civil unions may differ from marriage only by degree and mostly semantically, they nevertheless allow gays to enjoy legal protections without forcing Gus and Maggie to look too closely at what Jayson and Stephen are up to.

Two guys signing legal documents somehow doesn't bestir America's Inner Archie quite the way two grooms (or however it works) walking down the aisle do.

On another instinctual level, humans in general and Americans in particular have a natural recoil reaction - call it the "frontier effect" - to things that are forced their way. What might be tolerable in the abstract - you do your thing, I'll do mine - becomes unacceptable in the concrete.

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When you're expected to feel or behave a certain way - Be Nice - the tendency is to feel and do something else. Oh yeah?

Hence my impulse to toss beer bottles into the front yard and throw newspapers in the trash instead of the recycling bin. This is especially fun to do in front of the kiddies. Few things are more entertaining than watching children recently potty-trained work up environmental outrage.

The Massachusetts court ruling invites this recoil reaction even among otherwise laissez-faire types who could feel virtuous about civil unions without worrying about the institution of marriage. The argument for equal legal rights and protections, after all, sounds sweet to the American ear. It's so, well, civil.

But gay marriage has a different ring to it, so to speak, and invites the frontier effect.

Even Massachusetts voters must feel under siege by their own judiciary. A Zogby International poll of Massachusetts voters found that 73 percent of those surveyed felt that homosexual couples can provide for each other through private contractual arrangements already allowed under the law.

The poll also found that respondents' opposition to gay marriage would influence their vote in elections.

My guess is that many previously undecideds will reach for the clothespin in November and pull the Republican lever for president. They may not love George Bush. They may have second thoughts about the war in Iraq. They may worry about Bush's spending sprees that are reminiscent of Michael Jackson in Vegas.

But they also can't stomach activist courts rearranging the fundamental structure of American life.

Bush has made clear that he will do whatever is necessary to preserve the one man/one woman institution, hinting that he'll support a constitutional amendment. And while Kerry says he opposes gay marriage, he historically has enjoyed support from the gay community for his voting record on gay issues.

As senator, Kerry voted against both the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Clinton administration's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy" regarding gays in the military.

Through the remaining primaries and the November election, assuming he becomes the Democratic candidate, will Kerry be forced to embrace gay marriage? Or will he stick to his guns and risk offending a valuable constituency?

To many gays, of course, Kerry will be the lesser evil if Bush pushes the Federal Marriage Amendment. But among squeamish heterosexuals, the mind free associates: Massachusetts, brides with beards, John F. Kerry.

That's a problem Kerry no doubt wishes he didn't have.

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