Promise King/On Urban Affairs

After a long sojourn to Nigeria in West Africa, where people can marry as they see fit Ñ this includes polygamy Ñ it's odd to return home to a debate about whether or not a marriage should be only between a man and a woman.

I have conflicting thoughts about this issue. Clearly this is a tussle between tradition and legality. Like many, I am eagerly awaiting the Oregon Supreme Court's decision. But we need to understand that a Supreme Court judgment, no matter which side it favors, will not wash this issue away. Even decades later, Roe v. Wade has done nothing to quiet the abortion debate.

Yet ours is a civilization governed by laws and process. It's tempting to think that when laws are changed, attitudes will follow. Tempting, but naive.

Those who say they oppose the decision by county Chairwoman Diane Linn and her commission comrades to issue same-sex marriage licenses solely because of the process and the lack of public debate beforehand may not be entirely candid. -I don't recall, for example, a bleat of protest anytime during the past three years when the county commissioners halved the staff of the Citizen Involvement Committee and sliced its budget from $217,833 to $125,000. Before the same-sex marriage controversy, not many citizens bothered showing up at county commission meetings.

As gays, lesbians and their supporters struggle for what they consider equal rights, they must realize that their best hope is to wean their aspirations away from ambitious politicians.

Civil rights and politics do not mix well. History is replete with civil rights ventures that failed, seemingly because of their fusion with politics. For example: Attempts to diversify our work force have failed because succeeding generations of politicians have exploited affirmative action, mainly for the purpose of furthering their own careers, not that of workers.

Moralists quick to defend the sanctity of marriage as we know it could instead concentrate on helping save the institution, which has been tattered by divorce and adultery. They could also do a good deed by advocating that civil rights be universally viewed as a moral obligation. But there is little evidence to show that they have been working to quiet gay-bashing.

A healthy debate cannot be held if participants or protesters are indiscriminately tarred with the brush of homophobia. Those who disagree or have concerns about same-sex marriage must be allowed to express their dissent. Honest dialogue on race relations remains elusive today, partly because so-called civil rights leaders were quick to paint those who disagreed with them as racists. It would be sad Ñ though not unexpected Ñ to see a recurrence here.

What lessons can we take from this? I believe there are two:

• Governmental attempts at social engineering too often are harbingers of chaos. From school busing to affirmative action and now same-sex marriage licenses, governmental actions rarely have yielded satisfying results.

• In the final analysis, recalling the county commissioners won't solve the problem of process. Instead, we ought to look at reforming the way county government is structured and find ways to improve accountability.

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