ELEVEN YEARS ago, preparing to march down the wedding aisle (for a second time), I bumped into my friend Patrick, who has never in his near half-century on earth enjoyed the marital option.
"I'm getting married," I said.
"Great," he said. "Has she got a brother for me?"
The two of us laughed at the twist on the old line, but there was longing on his part. In Western Maryland, where he grew up and discovered the sexuality granted him by an apparently loving God, nobody ever talked about marriage for gay people. But now, thousands of gays and lesbians are marrying where they can, while they can. I see their wedding photos in the newspapers and the television news. There are thousands of them lining up. They look as if they might burst into blossom. And, in their eyes, I see the reflections of my friend Patrick's longing amid the laughter.
Please, can we spare ourselves those quotations from the Bible about marriage being the exclusive pairing of men with women? The Bible also says God loves all his children. And it doesn't offer any footnotes listing exceptions to the rule.
And, please, can we spare ourselves the words about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage? About half of us have been botching the hell out of our sanctified heterosexual marriages, so I'm not sure we're in a position to judge somebody else's.
As for some unclear gay "threat" to heteros, our marriages will stand or fall on their own merits, however gays and lesbians manage to lead their lives. This is not an attempt to make heterosexual marriage any less sacred - it is a declaration that gays, too, find it sacred and that they, too, are hungry for stability and security in their lives.
Yesterday, as the White House sent out the first wave of its front men to support George W. Bush's call for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, we had Rep. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania saying he worried mostly about the nation's children. They need care from both genders, he said.
Memo to Santorum: Before casting any stones, try offering this argument to the millions of kids growing up in broken heterosexual households. Try telling it to the kids with no parents at all. Two months ago, some of us gathered at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville to say goodbye to Michael Powell, the managing editor of The Frederick News-Post.
Over the past 15 years, Mike and his wife, Anne, were foster parents to 60 children. They never tried to take any bows for it. But consider the sheer need for any couple to offer their home to so many kids. And then, please let's spare ourselves any talk about children needing attention from both sexes, and how gay marriages would deprive them. Many are ravenously hungry for attention from either sex.
We are familiar with this issue around Baltimore. Three years ago, in a gesture that mixed courage and futility, City Councilman Nick D'Adamo introduced a bill to let homosexual couples register as domestic partners. He did this, he said, after half a dozen constituents told him of being turned away at hospitals or funeral homes by families denying to the very end that their loved one was in a homosexual relationship.
On the day the story ran in this newspaper, the angry telephone calls to D'Adamo did not stop. Some callers had known D'Adamo since he was a kid. Even D'Adamo's mother asked how she could face her friends at Friday night bingo after a measure that would legitimize something that so many people had considered so abhorrent for so long.
The next morning, in his City Hall office, a pensive D'Adamo said, "I look at some of these couples, and you can see on their faces the love they have for each other. And I started thinking to myself, 'Who am I to judge?'"
We are a nation of cultural mutts, of racial and religious minorities thrown together who once stood apart and, at a distance, feared each other and turned our fears into reflexive and unthinking demonizing. But we evolve. We learn to judge each other not by skin tone or by faith in an unseen God - and we learn not to reduce each other's complex humanity to the thing that happens in the privacy of our bedrooms.
I know that look that Nick D'Adamo mentioned. A few months ago, I had lunch with my old friend Patrick. He's living with a guy now. He talked about the two of them spending their lives together. He didn't mention marriage, because we hadn't yet plunged into the current debate.
But he had that look in his eye. Which, by any other name, we call love. You can see it on the faces of those newlyweds in the newspaper photos. And each of us, looking upon another human being's joy, needs to ask ourselves that simple question: Who am I to judge?