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Finally, as the suffering continues in Iraq (2,475 U.S. soldiers dead, 18,000-plus wounded, more than 38,000 civilians killed), as the economy falters (the Dow dropped 200 points Monday when the Fed chairman warned of inflation), as 45 million Americans go without health insurance (including 8.4 million children), as the federal budget deficit grows unabated ($8,359,984,623,929.25 on Monday),the president and the Congress have decided to address the important issue of our time: banning gay marriage.

Could there be a more cynical, calculated political diversion than the president of the United States (latest Gallup rating: 36 percent approve/57 percent disapprove) using his weekly radio address to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman"?

Where to start? That the conservative movement proclaims itself in support of "family values" and opposed to government intrusion in citizens' lives? That there is no more private province than people's declarations of love and devotion? That marriage is best handled in the spiritual realm, with the state merely confirming its contractual obligations? That as a practical matter, marriage has always been handled by the states? That some on the far- and religious-right say the amendment is necessary to prevent such evils as sodomy, masturbation, adultery, prostitution, out-of-wedlock sex and marriages that cannot procreate?

Nope, let's just start with the fact that even if a slight majority of Americans say they're against gay marriage, a majority also say they're against a constitutional amendment to prohibit it. There's already a ridiculous federal law--the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which declares marriage to be between a man and a woman for federal purposes--that even President Bush said in January was enough.

So what's this about? It's the same, clumsy, White House sleight of hand that works on the far-right and the mainstream media with roughly the same effectiveness, trying to take our eyes off the real problems that face our country. It's hard to decide which is worse--using for political gain the deepest feelings of a portion of the population already facing prejudice, or parading out the U.S. Constitution to do it.

More than 250 members of Congress say they support the constitutional amendment, including both of North Carolina's U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole, and U.S. Reps. Howard Coble, Bob Etheridge, Robin Hayes, Walter B. Jones and Charles Taylor. You can call their offices at 1-888-355-3588 to tell them how you feel. If you're feeling particularly angry, you can follow AMERICAblog.com's suggestion: Ask if they have ever engaged in any of the above-named evils. That should remind them how important this really is.

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