By Tom Mark

Lest anyone think otherwise before they get to the end of this piece, let me be clear. I am not in favor of same sex marriages.

But here it is again as we approach the cusp of another election year.

We're told that in a few days the Massachusetts' Supreme Court will rule on whether to legalize same-sex unions (marriages). Several other states have cases pending.

In the same article we are informed that Senate Republicans will hold hearings this month on the topic of amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.

This is certainly not a brand new subject, as same-sex marriages have been at the top of political agendas for several years now. But this past week the topic festered up again when President George Bush answered a question about the morality of homosexuals by sharing his views on gay marriages.

He suggested that homosexuality was a sin, which many listeners construed to mean was a choice, and thus threw more fuel on the fire. He later backtracked somewhat saying that he did not intend to label gays as sinners, sharing his idea that we are all sinners. I believe that his statement was "we shouldn't try to take the speck out of our neighbor's eye when we have a log in our own."

Clearly the president is being careful as election year 2004 approaches. But early indications say that this is one topic that won't easily be dodged.

Then the Vatican weighed in, following the president's comments, with a 12-page document urging Catholics to oppose gay marriages and telling Catholic lawmakers that they have a "moral duty" to stop the "legalization of evil."

Nationwide, the country is nearly evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriages with a Gallup poll taken two weeks ago showing 50 percent being in favor of a Constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and woman. The same poll had 45 percent opposed.

In Georgia, an online panel known as Voice of Atlanta conducted a poll, which had 45 percent of Georgians being in favor of a law that would permit gays to legally marry. 43 percent were opposed to such a law.

In studying this topic I found one gay man's view confusing. Jim Phillips, the chief financial officer at a credit union, would like to see the law changed, but says he isn't hung up in the word "marry."

Said Phillips, "If they want to say, 'OK, you guys aren't married, but you have the same benefits [as married couples] it what you will. That's fine with me."

That raises this question. Is this union/marriage that the gay community seeks more about love and commitment, or more about being a legal beneficiary?

Although I'm not comfortable with the idea of a gay union/marriage, I'm reluctant to pass judgment on this issue and condemn because, quite frankly, I don't feel qualified. As for whether it's a sin or not, I believe that question will ultimately be answered.

But after reading Mr. Phillips' comments, I can't help but question the motivation for the legalization of gay marriages.

People who get married for financial benefits are just as misguided as people who have more children in order to increase the amount of their welfare check.

Tom Mark is the sports editor of The Tifton Gazette. His column appears each Tuesday.

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