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I used to believe traditional marriage was a union between a cat and a dog. Proof could be found in the books I read. Fairy tales mostly, but also more contemporary works.

In these books were pictures portraying cats as female and dogs as male. You never saw a cat husband married to a dog wife. It flew in the face of nature and, more importantly, tradition.

Note: Horses (male) also traditionally married cows (female). It was right there in no less an authority than a checked-out library book: A horse read a newspaper while his wife — a cow in an apron — made cupcakes.

So it came as a bit of a shock when I discovered dogs and cats could not get married. They were two distinct species that shared nothing more than the fact that both were covered in hair that rubbed off on the furniture.

Of course I was more mature when I learned this. Second grade, I think. But it still took a long time for the information to sink in.

By third grade I was wrestling with more important traditional marriage ideas, namely the fact that a kid in my class, Myron, could never marry Deborah even though his mind audibly labored whenever she skipped past.

Again the problem was law based on tradition rather than actual sense. Myron was a boy. I knew this because we took swimming lessons together. Meanwhile Deborah was … well, not to put too fine a point on it, a "Negro."

Another note: I'm embarrassed to admit it took another year for me to figure out it wasn't spelled "knee grow." Hey, it was the '50s. Also, I'm slow.

Regular guys such as Myron and me (white boys) could not marry complete angels who just happened to be black or even dark brown.

Never mind. The point being that it was against all kinds of laws — civil, familial, religious, social, moronic — for Myron and Deborah to marry.

Why? Well, because their children would be biologically, socially and legally zebras. Everyone in my third-grade class (and an astonishing number of adults as it turned out) believed some version of this nonsense.

It got worse. I later came to understand that tradition-based laws at various times forbade marriage/sex (and even just making out) even between people of the same color.

For example, had I been born in Germany in the years leading up to World War II, it would have been illegal for me to marry a Jew. It would have been a crime (or at least a beating) for me to even date one.

Still later I was sternly cautioned by my own church, under penalty of celestial sanction against our children, not to marry Pam "Foxy Brown" Grier.

Because Pam, who is black, wouldn't answer my letters and calls, there was little danger of this happening. However, I did have a deeply religious uncle who freaked when he learned I dated a Mexican girl.

Traditional science and religion were cited to support these laws and beliefs, all of which claimed something horrible would happen to the world and to society if such nontraditional unions were allowed to become legal.

Well, except for dogs and cats, they all have. And nothing bad has happened. The world keeps plugging along even though Aryans marry Jews, blacks marry whites and humans marry Klingons (I've heard).

The current debate regarding traditional union is over gay marriage. Should two people of the same gender be allowed to get married? Will something horrible happen if they do?

Probably not. Given how often society and government have gotten this sort of thing wrong to the point of idiocy, maybe tradition is something we should reject out of hand.

I've always believed marriage should be based on love rather than society and government. But that's just me. I married a Canadian and nothing bad happened.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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