The official state motto of New York is “Excelsior,” which, as you know, translates from the Latin as “Fuhgeddaboudit!” — although away from the Big Apple some insist it means “Ever upward.”

That last meaning seems more accurate because the state of New York, by virtue of its size and influence, has just propelled the cause of fair play into the stratosphere by passing a bill legalizing gay marriage.

Of course, back in the muddy hollows, not everybody is pleased. The Republican candidates for president continue to talk expansively about freedom, except most believe it is for everyone else in the country except the minority of Americans they exclude from one of life’s most personal and fundamental rights.

They do this because they believe in the sanctity of marriage, which indeed is a fine principle. Unfortunately, politicians are not in the sanctity business — in fact, a less sanctified bunch you couldn’t find this side of journalism. That’s because they worship Mammon, sometimes called special interest campaign funds.

The absurdity of politicians as moral guardians is obvious whenever Newt Gingrich enters the debate. Marriage’s great un-sanctifier believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, then, in due time, another woman, and then yet another woman, but never ever between two people of the same sex even if they remain lovingly faithful to each other all their lives.

If pro-sanctity politicians were serious, they would propose laws against divorce, but do you hear anything like that? No, because silence is golden to those afraid of offending the vast majority of voters.

Actually, it is pure myth that all marriages are equally sanctified. Is the sanctity of marriage preserved when two perhaps inebriated heterosexuals are married by an Elvis impersonator at a drive-in chapel in Las Vegas? That’s easy. Of course sanctity is involved, as it always is when Elvis is somehow involved. Elvis was all about a hunka, hunka burning commitment.

Couples married while skydiving or under water with scuba gear, however, may not enjoy a similar blessing. “Do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife?” “Yesssssss! Yowwwww!” Or, in the case of the scuba divers, “Bubble, bubble, bubble.” Yet no matter how matrimonially ridiculous the ceremony, some would exclude gays from embarrassing themselves in it.

It’s way past time that an obvious truth was recognized: The institution of marriage exists on both religious and secular levels.

What they have in common is that marriage is a state-sanctioned contract that extends certain legal privileges to those who participate. So you can be married with all the sanctity you desire in a church, or you can go to a judge or a registry office.

Gay marriage subverts this system not at all. As the free exercise of religion is a constitutional right, gay marriage does not — should not — require churches to marry gay people if that goes against their beliefs. The new law in New York makes this right explicit and protects churches from state penalties if they act on their beliefs. No heterosexual has anything to worry about, except that a gay couple with better taste may move in as neighbors.

Gay marriage is not some illogical cause. It is true that I cannot take more than one wife, assuming I want to because I am a masochist, and can’t marry my dog, assuming he could wake up for the nuptials, or marry a close relative, assuming ignorance of certain jokes about certain states.

But the rules are the same for me and all other straight people who are of age and of sound mind — and sometimes not even the second. That gays are not universally covered by the same rules is the glaring unfairness.

The good news from New York is that not all Republicans have a country club, members-only attitude when it comes to marriage. This historic bill is law because four GOP senators in a Republican-controlled chamber got away from the “not our sort of people” mentality in order to treat people as people.

The libertarian impulse running through conservative thought — that some things are just not the business of government — may yet turn the Grand Old Party away from hypocrisy, making its candidates grandly believable when they say they stand for freedom for all.

Until that happy day, those who don’t like gay marriage should avoid marrying people of the same sex. But if they think they can forestall the inevitability of gay marriage for others, I say to them, “Fuhgeddaboudit!” After New York, it’s ever upward.

Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Email [email protected] This column was distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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