- - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A man who imagined himself quite the wit once posed a riddle to Abraham Lincoln: “If you count a dog’s tail as a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” Just four, the president replied. “You can call a tail a leg, but it’s not a leg.”

It wasn’t much of a riddle, but the logic of Honest Abe’s answer was unassailable and bears on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stand clear while lower courts dismantle the legislative protections of traditional marriage. You can call a legal relationship between a man and man, and a woman and a woman, a “marriage,” but it’s still a dog’s tail.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has earned a reputation as an easy mark for anything weird, Tuesday followed the lead of the Supreme Court and struck down gay-marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. The judges said they wanted to strengthen “one of our most important institutions.” Wrote Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, a gift from Jimmy Carter, “when same-sex couples are married, just as when opposite couples are married, they serve as models of loving commitment to all.”

Well, perhaps not quite all. There’s still “the ick factor,” the instinctive reaction of most people to the intimate marital practices of homosexuals. The New York Times, which monitors the temperature of the gay-marriage movement with the care and constancy of a doctor monitoring an Ebola patient, reports that organized homosexuals have now aimed their “Focus on a New Frontier,” which it identifies as public acceptance and enthusiasm for same-sex marriage. The newspaper dispatched a correspondent into deep Alabama and discovered “the ick factor” alive and well in the South despite the recent string of gay victories in the U.S. appeals courts.

Eliminating “the ick factor” will be a daunting task elsewhere in Middle America. Millions will need sensitivity training. “If the [Supreme Court] decision suggests a country heading inexorably toward marriage rights nationwide for gay couples,” the newspaper reports, “parts of the South seem like a world apart,” where “religion is woven deeply into the fabric of life .”

And not just in the South. Religious faith is “woven deeply into the fabric of life” in a lot of places, some familiar to visitors from Manhattan, and some not. What gays and lesbians, some eager to marry and some not, want more than anything else is the acceptance of their sexual predilections by the straight world, an affirmation that those predilections are as worthy as the straight. This is honor and respect beyond the power of judges to confer.

Gays appear to have won the battle in the courts, but the war continues to preserve an institution that has survived for hundreds and even thousands of years, supported by the major religions, long-held secular traditions of many societies, and until now, the law. One legislator in Utah suggests, in the wake of Tuesday’s decision in San Francisco, that the law draw a distinction in the language, referring to same-sex coupling as a “pairage,” with rights and responsibilities but not a marriage, which would be left undisturbed as the union of a man and a woman. Gays would write their own love songs, design their own traditions, pluck their own orange blossoms, and everyone could live happily ever after.

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