My own feeling is that on what are perhaps the three most highly charged issues separating much of America — abortion, guns, and gay rights — there really are solutions, if only the direct-mail folks didn’t have such a strong interest in fanning the flames.

Abortion. No one likes the idea of abortion. But prohibition worked no better for abortion than it did for alcohol. It did relatively little to keep young women from making this agonizing choice, it just made it even more agonizing — and dangerous. And so I keep coming back to the compromise that the late Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan suggested several years ago in PARADE. Basically, they looked at what differentiates human life from any other, and concluded it was only the capacity for human thought. In every other respect, a cow is just as miraculous a creature — and we slaughter and devour cows routinely, even though we have no need to. (I’m not so crazy about doing that, either, incidentally. But I wouldn’t ban it.) So, Sagan and Druyan suggested, why not determine the point at which human brave waves manifest themselves — around the sixth month — and say that beyond that point — but only beyond that point — abortions should be restricted to extraordinary circumstances (e.g., when the life of the mother is at risk). Those who believe a one-day-old embryo is sacred should absolutely not take a morning-after pill; but neither should they impose their beliefs on others.

Guns. Few favor banning guns. But why on earth can’t we agree to treat them with the same degree of responsibility as we do automobiles? With some safety regulation and licensing/registration requirements? I know I owe you a column on the Second Amendment, and it’s coming. So let me hold off on this one.

Gays. And then there’s the gay thing, which for many is simply a matter of following what they’ve been taught in the Bible. (They do not, however, seem to regard football as an abomination, even though touching pigskin is clearly proscribed as an abomination; or to want to stone non-virgin brides in the public square until dead, as is also required.) Logic is no match for faith, so here’s what I have long proposed: Let us stipulate that for two people of the same sex to “lie down together” is unnatural. That it is perhaps even an abomination before God — if they’re straight. OK? Let’s agree! STRAIGHT PEOPLE SHOULDN’T DO THAT! But let’s also agree that for two of God’s millions of gay and lesbian children, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, what is unnatural is to try to force them to live loveless lives of loneliness and dishonesty.

Wouldn’t this compromise work? It’s a sin for straight people to have gay sex.

But religion aside, what about the law?

Here’s one side’s view:

“We do not believe sexual preference should be given special legal protection or standing in law.” — Republican Party 2000 Platform

I have full confidence that the Republican Party will get it in due time. Maybe even pretty soon. But they sure don’t get it yet.

For starters, it’s not a “preference,” which suggests a choice — red wine or white tonight, sir? The term most thoughtful people have come to use is “sexual orientation,” which suggests something more fundamental.

Still, it’s true: People do bristle at the idea of giving anyone special rights. So do I.

But consider these questions:

Is it a special right to be able to visit your life partner in the emergency room? If so, no one should have that right.

Is it a special right to receive Social Security benefits after the breadwinner dies? If so, no surviving spouses should receive benefits.

Is it a special right for a widow or widower to inherit his or her partner’s property tax-free? If so, the estate tax should hit the surviving member of all couples, not just gay couples.

Is it a special right not to be discriminated against solely on the basis of one’s “status”? (“Irish need not apply.”) If so, it should be legal to fire / not hire / not serve, anyone for being who they are — black, Catholic, disabled — not just gays and lesbians.

Is it a special right for two loving adults to enjoy intimate relations in the privacy of their own bedroom? If so, no one should be allowed to do that, except strictly as needed, and in the most peremptory way, to reproduce. George W. Bush supports the Texas sodomy law under which his running mate’s daughter could be sent to prison.

Is it a special right to be protected by hate crimes laws? If so, none of the traditional targets should be protected. George W. Bush was willing to sign a hate crimes law after James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to death behind that Texas pickup truck — but only if the phrase “sexual orientation” were removed. The KKK/neo-Nazi types are way out of line going after Jews and blacks, the reasoning seems to be. But gays . . . well, that’s a different story.

Gore sees it differently. He supports the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and has promised to appoint a commission to recommend the best way to give the same economic benefits to gays and lesbians as to anyone else.

“The cause we celebrate tonight,” he told the 1998 Human Rights Campaign dinner, “is not some narrow special interest. It is really the cause that has defined this nation since its founding: to deepen the meaning of fundamental fairness … to build a good and just society on this bedrock principle: equal opportunity for all, special privilege for none.”

That’s why even a lot of my Republican friends are voting Democrat this year.

 

Tomorrow: Should You Join an Investment Club?

 

 

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