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Gay marriage opens new chapters on good manners

Actress Portia de Rossi, left, and television personality Ellen DeGeneres married last month in California.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.''

MEETING RESISTANCE

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.''

MAKING REVISIONS

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.''

COMMERCIALIZATION

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

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civil union ok. gay marriage no!

As someone who prides himself as being nothing if not diplomatic, I would take simple legal equality under the law, even if the operative term is "civil unions." If social conservatives simply wish to reserve the term "marriage" for heterosexual couples, they can have it, as long as Gay couples are treated fairly.

Here's an example of how the current system is not fair: According to a statement I recently received in the mail from the Social Security Administration, my married spouse would be eligible for over $1400 per month (after retirement) in the event of my death. I think anyone would agree that $1400 per month is a pretty hefty chunk of change. However, it is money that my significant other would not be eligible for, because we would not be allowed to get married. I would like to provide for the financial well-being of my spouse, just as I'm sure any heterosexual would, but in essence I'm throwing away money on a fund that my partner cannot take advantage to in the event of my death.

At the root of this discrepancy is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was signed, to his eternal shame, by Bill Clinton. Because of DOMA, even Gay couples who are legally married in Massachusetts or California are unrecognized by the federal government, and any such couple becomes magically “UN-married” once they move to another state. So frankly, even married Gay couples in Massachusetts and California continue to be second-class citizens in the eyes of Washington.

At the very least, the federal government should allow Gay spouses file joint tax returns and to designate one another for survivorship benefits under Social Security. If a "civil union" would allow us to do this, I'm all for it. If not, then nothing but full marriage equality will suffice.

If by "lifestyle" the AFC is referring to same-sex marriage, it is only illegal in ONE state, Wisconsin. Sodomy laws were overturned in 2003 in Lawrence v Texas by the U.S. Supreme Court. The AFC ought to be held accountable for disseminating this and other hurtful, hateful, harmful untruths. We need a marriage amendment, yes, but to remove gender-biased marriage laws nation wide and protect all equally under the law. And whatever happened to "In God We Trust?" Certainly Man's unavoidably bisexual NATURE is part of the Creator's Intelligent Design, or an evolutionary advantage to survival in the long term through population management. Translation: same-sex couples don't have accidental births, but we can adopt otherwise unwanted children, if marriage laws change to protect these new families the AFC ought to be encouraging instead of vilifying.

Here in Florida we are faced with a referendum that would write into the state constitution a definition of marriage designed solely to exclude the families of non-heterosexual couples. The amendment, called simply Amendment 2, states “This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.” There is no sound justification for writing exclusion into the state Constitution, and we, the people of Florida, must act in the name of justice and stop this amendment from passage. We must vote “NO” on Amendment 2. Here is why:

Same-sex marriage is not about religion, and we need to be clear about that. The fact is that marriage is a function of the state, not of religion. When a pastor or rabbi concludes a ceremony, it is with the phrase, “By the power vested in me by the State (or Commonwealth) of (insert name here), I now pronounce you…” This makes clear that religious ceremonies, while popular, are unnecessary to become married. Couples may walk into a town hall and get married, sans minister. I am by no means suggesting that conservative religious institutions be made to conduct marriage ceremonies which run contrary to their teachings. Instead, those religious institutions which traditionally allow same-sex marriage ought to be free to practice their religion.

The conversation ought not focus on religion, but on civil rights, and namely the right to choose a partner of legal age and capable of mutual consent to enter into a state-recognized partnership that grants the married couple a wide range of responsibilities toward one another and State support to meet those commitments. In turn, the couples are socially buoyed through the strength and stability implied by marriage. Further, marriage carries sociological respect that same-sex couples and their families deserve; less creates a separate and unequal status.

The facts are in favor for same-sex marriage: in countries and states where same-sex marriage has been adopted, divorce has declined; marriage rates have modestly improved; the children of same-sex couples enjoy the familial protections only marriage can offer.

There are no long-term studies revealing any harm in same-sex marriage, but the American Psychological Association does recognize long-term studies that reveal the harm in disallowing them, and therefore has issued a statement in support of same-sex marriage (http://www.apa.org/releases/gaymarriage.html).

Civil rights have never been granted by referendum, but rather by the judiciary or the legislature. Had the abolition of slavery gone to referendum, it would not have passed, for people turned to their religion to justify it. Had women’s suffrage gone to referendum, it would not have passed, as people turned to their religion to deny it. Had desegregation gone to referendum, it would not have passed; the United States Supreme Court had to declare it unconstitutional and the military had to enforce the ruling in some areas. Same-sex marriage is no different: It is a civil right, and religion is the wrong context in which to discuss it. It is for these reasons that we must vote “NO” on Amendment 2 in November.

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