Bill Maher used to tell a joke, which is funny but not true. He'd ask the question why are we trying to stop gay people from getting married; they're the only ones who still want to. He could have gone on to say that the only certain way to destroy that desire is to make the act legal. I know a lot of gay people in New York who could be visiting any number of New England states to exercise their newly won rights but none of them seem to get around to it. (Perhaps, the idea of a lifelong commitment sensibly scares them.)
I have been married a longish time and I feel rather fortunate as a result. I am, nevertheless, hardly a poster boy for the institution. We have no children, by choice: the idea that marriage is for procreation makes me feel slightly nauseated. Moreover, I would be perfectly happy to change the name of the institution to a civil union if all our collective rights were maintained. Let's keep the union of two people something between them and the state: this is about civil rights. Having said that, should such individuals choose to have a minister, imam, priest, rabbi, shaman or wiccan "consecrate" the affair - after the fact that's their own business.
In fact, it's time to give heed to what Gloria Steinem observed a few decades back: marriage was a fine idea when people only lived a few decades. Now that people live long enough to eat themselves to death, the situation has changed. After a couple of decades of living together, some people just don't want to do it anymore or make a regrettable mistake. That's why the capacity to divorce is actually so important.
Hence, I don't think that Governor Mark Sanford should have his political career ended over a frolic in Argentina. He messed around, which is a tragedy for his family, not necessarily the public he serves. Instead, his prospects should wither in light of the fact that he must have wanted to get caught. He's not a stupid man, and he pulled a stunt that was certain to place him in the media cross hairs. It's political suicide by reporter. Perhaps, the better question is why he chose to do this. Maybe, he could find no gentle exit from the family values trap that he found himself him, so he chose the nuclear option instead.
The simple fact is that the American definition of family values - from virginity to marriage - and all the sacred hoopla that goes with it is a dangerous myth that treats sex like a filthy act, adults like children and adulterous politicians like fallen gods, which they most certainly are not. Perpetuating this myth makes some religiously inclined voters happy but robs the country of good candidates for elected office who do what comes natural to many people: cheat on their spouse and try not to get caught.
Damn few people want to serve their company in an elected capacity. The pay is low, the respect negligible and the pressure unbelievable. Let's not make that pool even smaller by insisting that zippers remain in an upright position at all times.
Follow Michael B. Laskoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbilTo