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by Julia Sneden

It looks as if America is in for it. First, Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. Then San Francisco’s mayor defied the laws of the state and opened City Hall to a great wave of same-sex couples who wanted weddings performed. And now President Bush has jumped into the fray with his proposed Constitutional Amendment restricting marriage to one male and one female participant.

Forgive me if I seem confused, but is this the same party that once touted Barry Goldwater’s “You can’t legislate morality?” (I’ve never understood the Far Right Wing’s fondness for that statement: What, for heaven’s sake, do they think “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is?) It looks as if they’ve spun 180º, at least if you’re looking at gay marriage as a moral issue rather than a civil one.

I find myself wondering why Mr. Bush thinks his amendment will pass when more than 2/3 of the states vetoed the ERA, which was hardly as controversial as the proposed marriage amendment.

Considering the divorce rate these days, it is hard to take anyone’s talk about “the sanctity of marriage” with a straight face. Those of us who have been married for a long time might agree that a more descriptive phrase might be “the habit of marriage,” or even “the stubbornness of marriage.” In fact, maybe it’s time to rethink how we license marriages. Why not perform a kind of civil licensing that would allow a marriage to progress slowly through stages, holding off on those sacred promises until one is sure one has a chance of keeping them? Let the marriage vows in a church be the last step of a long and fruitful union!

My home state has recently introduced a system of graduated licensing for young drivers. Perhaps a look at it might suggest a new way of getting into marriage, gay or straight.

At the age of 15, youngsters are allowed to take a course in Driver Education. If and only IF they pass that, they may present the graduation certificate and a written permission from a parent or guardian, and receive a Learner’s Permit (LP).

I suppose that 15 is too young to offer a Learner’s Permit for marriage. Perhaps one could make the permit contingent on graduating from high school, plus obtaining certification for having taken the usual classes in sex education and possibly a “life skills” course.

Level One, the Provisional Driver’s License (PDL) can be obtained only after passing written tests of vision and recognition of traffic signs.

The Provisional Marriage License (PML) would be earned by demonstrating that one knows how to get a job, pay bills, maintain a credit rating, write a check, cook a meal, do the laundry, scrub a toilet, and manage anger. Success in obtaining the PML would probably take a lot longer than did qualifying for the PDL, but it would surely reduce the number of impulsive, young marriages.

Once you have a PDL, you can drive ONLY between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. while accompanied by a Supervising Driver (parent, guardian, or licensed driver over 25). All passengers must be in buckled seat belts, or child seat. Furthermore, no one except the Driver and the Supervising Driver may be in the front seat. These strictures last for 6 months, after which the Driver can drive at any time as long as the Supervising Driver is accompanying.

Once you had a PML, perhaps you could take a parent or guardian along on dates, although it seems prudent to suggest that your Supervising Dater(s) would sit in the back seat. After a year of supervised dating, supervision could be restricted to only those hours between 9 p.m. and whenever your curfew is.

A Level Two PDL can be applied for after driving for 12 months with the Level One, and receiving no convictions for traffic violations or parking tickets. Seat belts or child seats must be used by all passengers. You may drive unsupervised between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. and anytime on the way to work or volunteer fire, rescue or EMS calls if you are a member of such an organization. After 9 p.m., you must have a Supervising Driver with you. For six months, you may have only one passenger under 21 in addition to the Supervising Driver, although if the riders are members of your immediate family, there are no restrictions as long as you have enough seat belts for all.

A Level 2 PML might include: You may live together, but you must run all decisions by an older Supervisor (possibly a grandparent or certified senior citizen). You may have one guest at a time, unless you have started a family, in which case there is no restriction on the number of children as long as you have enough beds, college funds, seat belts and child seats. After 20 years, you may operate without a Supervisor.

Level Three is no longer a Provisional Driver. You are now an official, licensed driver as long as you (a) pass the tests again, (b) have proof that you are who you say you are and (c) have the $15 necessary to hand over to the DMV.

The Level Three Marriage License: This should probably be restricted to couples who have been married for at least 25 years (preferably more) and thus have demonstrated the strength or stubbornness of their commitment. They are now eligible to go to the church or synagogue and say their vows as long as they have the $$ necessary to pay for the ceremony, donate to the clergyman’s or rabbi’s “discretionary fund,” and float a honeymoon, which God knows they deserve by now.



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