BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Two beautiful, meant-to-be-together souls become one.
Two hearts. One promise.
Partners in life and love . . .
With gay marriage a reality in two states, Hallmark Cards has made it easier for those wanting to send the very best to Mr. & Mr. California or Mrs. & Mrs. Massachusetts.
''It's a wonderful thing for people who don't know how to pen those words,'' said Dear Abby herself, Jeanne Phillips, who often hears from confused readers wanting to know the proper way to address gay and lesbian partners, how same-sex couples manage to procreate, and which gender pronoun to use when a co-worker has transitioned to another sex.
''You'd be amazed where I get [these questions] from,'' Phillips said. ``My doctor called me once. He said his wife's niece was being married to another woman. They were giving a shower and they didn't know who to list first.
'You know what I said? `Call them and ask.' He laughed and said that's why you do what you do.''
Hallmark's line of gay-oriented greeting cards will soon launch in dozens of franchise Gold Crown stores and Walgreens, company spokeswoman Sarah Kolell said from headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
''We are just in the very, very, very beginning,'' Kolell said. ``The cards are part of a larger revision. Across the country, there's about 40 stores now that are getting the revision.''
It's up to individual franchises whether to sell the gay merchandise. ''Eventually, all the Gold Crown stores will have the option to carry these cards,'' Kolell said.
Several franchisees in smaller markets have already said they won't carry the cards. And the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., has called for a Hallmark boycott. ''Ask them to stop promoting a lifestyle that is not only unhealthy, but is also illegal in 48 states,'' according to an association member alert.
Kolell said Hallmark, which began offering same-sex and opposite-sex domestic-partner benefits to employees in 2005, was prepared for a backlash.
''The line was announced in response to a consumer need,'' she said. ``It's not a political statement. We knew it was a sensitive issue.''
Dear Abby says the protests demonstrate exactly why the cards are needed.
''I wish the self-righteous would not inflict their feelings on others,'' said Phillips, who succeeded her mother Pauline as syndicated advice columnist ''Abigail Van Buren'' in 2002. ``People who don't want to buy those cards -- and don't know any gay people -- they're free to not buy them.''
Phillips supports gay marriage and relishes her opportunity to touch millions of readers. She recalls when her mom began writing the column a half-century ago:
'They didn't even use the `H' word (homosexual). My mother was the first to put it in her column,'' Phillips said. ``Honey, this wasn't talked about. They might whisper about it, but they sure didn't have it in a family newspaper. In those days, it wasn't equal treatment, it was about compassion. Now, it sounds a little patronizing to say the word. It's all a progression you know.''
Things have moved so quickly that Steven Petrow (pictured), former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, is busy revising his 1995 guide, The Essential Book of Gay Manners & Etiquette.
''When I did the original edition of Gay Etiquette, it was really clear that the purpose was not to skate rules, but to help people in circumstances and situations when they don't know,'' Petrow said. ``It's a guide to make people comfortable.''
Petrow said his book addresses ``the ins and outs of marriage, divorce, adoption.''
'If I hear one more time, `Where did your baby come from? Who is the father?' It's as if the parenting partner is not the father. And the whole gender pronoun thing is so confusing: When does he become she and she become he?''
Another hot topic: What to call a gay person's legally wed partner?
''A lot of gay people are uncomfortable referring to a spouse as a husband or a wife. I know married couples having a tough time wrapping themselves around those words,'' Petrow said. 'And think of straight people: `We're going out with the husbands.' ''
Petrow, a former executive editor of Time Inc., believes ``a lot about etiquette is about language, and language is how we convey our values.''
Dan Savage, whose edgy advice column appears online and is syndicated in alternative newspapers, said he also gets ``these really sweet letters from straight people who want to do the right thing.''
Straight people are not the only ones adjusting to modern gay etiquette. Many gay men and lesbians are, too.
''When we got married we felt ridiculous,'' said Savage, who years ago wed his male partner in a private commitment ceremony. ``When I see two women at the altar in two extravagant Cinderella gowns, it seems a little off. Or two men in tuxes.''
He fears ``the marital industrial complex is going to try to grind us down and our rituals will be subjected to the same banalification that heterosexual rituals have been subjected to. There is money to be made.''
Hallmark's move suggests to Savage that gay people have fully arrived.
''That's it. We win. Game over,'' he said. 'What Hallmark should do is create a line of cards for people being boycotted. `Congratulations, you're being boycotted by the American Family Association. You're doing something right.' ''
Photo 1: Actress Portia de Rossi, left, and television personality Ellen DeGeneres married last month in California. CHRIS WEEKS / AP