Should Churches Be Tax Exempt?

May 10, 2012

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The Washington National Cathedral, also known ...

The passing of Amendment One in North Carolina yesterday got me thinking about a long-standing law in the United States that gives tax-exempt status to recognized religious institutions. The basic idea is that the US was founded on religious freedom and the surest way to prevent the free exercise of religion is to tax it . Exempting a church from taxes is also one of the best ways to keep the “separation of church and State” as described by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. This nation was founded on the basis that people should be able to practice whatever religion they’d like, and the government should have no ability to prosecute or privileged individuals for religious reasons – it’s supposedly why the Pilgrims came across on the Mayflower.

Over the past few months many churches in North Carolina have taken a rather active stance in favor of Amendment One, from simply putting up signs in favor of the amendment to having their pastors actively speak to the media that they are supporting the amendment. Beyond that I’ve heard quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that some churches are even telling their congregation that they should vote for Amendment One. One of the biggest Holy Rollers of all time, Billy Graham, came out enthusiastically for Amendment One. By taking an active stance for such a politically divisive issue, these churches are without a doubt getting political – if that’s the case, shouldn’t the rewards for staying politically neutral, tax exemption, be taken away?

A tax exemption is not a right, there is no constitutional mention at all of a religious institution’s right to not pay taxes. In fact, there are forms and qualifications to submit to the IRS that any tax exempt organization has to complete to show that they get the privilege of paying less or no taxes. The whole purpose of the tax exemption in the first place was because churches were believed to “fill in the gaps” in terms of charity and helping the poor and destitute, the gaps that the government was unwilling or unable to take care of. If a church is taking a political stance, then they are intrinsically swaying voters and changing outcomes and results regardless of the original intentions.

The right to not pay taxes is fine for charities, but when a church decides to speak out against individual rights the IRS has the right to veto that church’s application for tax-exempt status.

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Should Gays Raise Children?

July 7, 2011

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As we enter the time of year when we’ll hear presidential debate after debate and advertisement after advertisement I began to reflect on some of the values that I expect from my candidate. As I reflected, one particular value hit me very hard. Four years ago this same idea was “sort of” on my radar but I didn’t feel very strongly about it. As with most of us, our experiences in life provide us perspective. As we grow older we develop sometimes those perspectives change based on the very experiences that we have.

I often say that as we grow older in life we tend to think more conservatively. That doesn’t mean that all of us will become conservatives, but without a doubt I would think that most people will move a little more conservative with age. The last few years I moved a little more conservative on one particular issue; this issue won’t sit well with many people either. That issue is related to gay marriage; specifically, it’s gay couples having or adopting children.

I still could care less if the Squirrel and Zarberg want to get hitched and do the nasty all day. I could care less if that means they declare themselves a couple for tax purposes, for the benefit of insurance. I’m still fairly neutral in that view as long as I don’t have to watch them making out. I still think it’s a sin and I still don’t approve of it but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the desire of a gay couple to declare their devotion to one particular person.

Here is where I draw a firm line in the sand. Gay/Lesbian/Homosexual couples should not parent children whether they have been adopted or birthed through insemination. A few years ago I didn’t view this as much of an issue. Let me explain why I have changed my opinion.

I work with a gay female that is in a committed, long term (married now) relationship with another female. They have two beautiful children. Both children were carried and birthed by my friend’s spouse. The father is the same for both children and Mom was artificially inseminated. The kids are 100% brother and sister in every way having the same Mom and Dad. They are blessed to have two very caring and loving Mom’s. The Mom that I work with is one of the most loving individuals that I know. She cherishes her children to a point that is rivaled by few. I know she would do anything for her kids and loves each of them more than life itself. Her spouse also loves their children more than many parents love their children, but I don’t know her very well. They provide for the kids very well and are raising them wonderfully.

Ok Squeaky, this sounds like it’s going well. What’s the problem?

The problem really origin blows up outside the home. Kids are horrible to each other, you know that. If kids can find something odd about another child, they exploit it. Most of the time its petty stuff like, “Kosmo has a green shirt on today so he’s bad”, “Kosmo has cooties” or “Don’t play with Kosmo today because he farted in class…again”. You know, stuff that passes in a moment or two.

These two kids however are in hell a great deal of the time. “Martin has two moms…eeeeew” “Squeaky is going to be gay because he has two Moms.” “Don’t invite Crunchy to the sleepover because she has two moms so you know she’s going to try and kiss you”. This has been going on for a couple years and it isn’t slowing down.

The kids can’t ride the bus any longer. The kids can’t hang around after school any longer. The kids have to get taken to school and picked up by one of their moms so they don’t get picked on. The whole family is deeply troubled by this and they’re all in psychotherapy trying to deal with it. You tell me, what 7 year old child should need a shrink? Do you think for a minute that this was a thought in the mind of the parents when they decided to have these two kids? Of course not, obviously the kids’ moms never intended for any of that to happen. What parent would?

This doesn’t mean that they aren’t good parents. This family lives in a small town of 50,000 people and everybody knows everybody’s business. There is no escaping for these kids. Certainly as they grow older it will get better, but we’re talking years from now, and at what price? The oldest is 12 and she is still going through hell. She went on a date with a boy a few months ago and the boy’s parents flipped when they found out that she had two moms. Then one of the moms found out that the boy was black and she flipped too. There is no winning.

I’m not trying to say that gay people are bad. If anything this story should show just the opposite. They’re just like everyone else, they can be great, kind, loving, caring people OR they can be a total jack ass. Being gay doesn’t make someone good OR bad. Being gay doesn’t mean that a person is a good or bad parent either. What I’m saying is that being a gay parent does set up your children for a lot of grief, turmoil and many years of hell.

As we go to the polls, as we listen to and watch debates this year, I’m not asking you to change your mind. I’m not pushing for No Gay Marriage or anything like that. I’m not trying to deprive anyone of their rights. I’m just saying, we all need to grow up and not think about immediate gratification. Think about the long term impact of the decisions that we make. Think about how your decisions impact others; not just with gays being parents but with everything: Unions, taxes, abortions, green/clean energy, buying American produced goods, annexation of that little farm down the road, approving the bond fund, raising the sales tax, eliminating the senior exemption, changing the drinking age, immigration requirements, and minimum wage. I could go on and on.

I’m not saying that the conservative thought is the correct one every time (even though it is), but we really need to be responsible and think deeply about what you’re voting for/against. Everything we vote on has impacts beyond the main subject you are looking at. Think about it thoroughly, consider the impact and make your decision wisely. Don’t just live life in the moment.

I’ll stop down off my soap box now.


Who Should I Vote For?

October 20, 2010

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Election day is looming – and with it, the decision of whom to vote for. 

For the majority of Americans, this won’t be a difficult choice.  As devoted members of the Democratic, Republicans, or Toga party, they will simply vote for the candidate with a D, R, or T next to their name.

However, millions of unaffiliated voters will face a choice when they stare at the ballot.  Conventional wisdom suggests that voters should cast a vote for the candidate whom they have the most in common with.  But is this a time to turn conventional wisdom on its head?

There are hundreds of issues that you can take a stance on, but the vast majority are irrelevant for one of three reasons:

  • You don’t have particularly strong views on the issue
  • Nearly everyone agrees with you
  • Nearly everyone disagrees with you

By definition, an issue that you don’t care about very much shouldn’t sway your vote.  It really doesn’t matter if you vote for someone who agrees or disagrees with you – it won’t have much of an impact on your life.

If an issue has widespread support, it’s also irrelevant.  For example, I favor sustained peaceful relations with Canada (despite the fact that they have soiled the good name of bacon by releasing their own, inferior version).  Of course, so does nearly everyone else.  Regardless of whether I vote for a pro-Canada or anti-Canada candidate, I don’t see a war against Canada in the near future.

How about the flip side of this – an issue where nearly everyone disagrees with you.  Let’s say I support the deportation of all Nebraska residents to a colony on the moon (I’m fairly sure that I’m not in favor of this).    While this idea would likely get some support from people in other Big 12 states, it’s not likely to get more than token support in congress.  So even if I vote for the Nebraska-Moon party candidate, it’s not going to happen.

(Yes, these examples are both pretty contrived)

What does that leave us with?  Issues that are both:

  • Important to you
  • Competitive

I’ll quantify “competitive” as some with between about 43% of 57% support (among people who have an opinion on the issue).  This is an arbitrary range, but “feels right”.  These are issues where you can actually make a difference – if you and like-minded people elect a few people to congress who share your views, you may push support from minority to majority (or vice versa) and get new legislation enacted.

This year, two issues are front and center for me.

The first is gay marriage.  I have not friends that are openly gay, but I have become a strong proponent of allowing gay couples to get married (not just civil unions, but actual marriage).  I’ve written on this a number of times, and am not going to rehash everything I have said in the past.  Suffice it to say that it’s an issue that I feel strongly about.

The supreme court of Iowa (where I live) has deemed that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.  Opponents of the rule would like to enact a constitutional amendment to trump this ruling … but state law dictates that such a proposal must pay in two separate state general assemblies, at which point it would be placed on the ballot.  The current makeup of the state legislature doesn’t have enough support to get the ball rolling – and I’ll do my part to ensure that this remains true.

On the judicial side, three of the justices (the only three up for renewal this November) who joined in the unanimous opinion are under attack by groups opposing the ruling, who are running ads asking voters to throw them out of office.  In Iowa, voters simply vote to retain a judge or not retain them.  It’s not common for this to become politicized.  The judges, of course, can’t simply have fund-raisers to run their own ads – as this would be a major conflict of interest.  A group siding with the judges has recently begun to run ads.

I’ll be voting “retain”.  If the justices are thrown out because of this decision, what sort of message is this sending to the court?  A pretty clear one – don’t make decisions that could be unpopular, even if the decision is correct.  That’s a disturbing thought.  I have no problem throwing out justices who engage is judicial misconduct – but not for simply making a controversial decision. 

The second issue is the privatization of social security.  This falls completely on the other side of the political spectrum from gay marriage – being supported only by conservatives.

I’m very puzzled by the politicization of this issue.  Groups who oppose privatization point to downturns in the stock market and suggest that turning over Social Security to Wall Street would be very risky.

Of course, nobody has ever suggested that people take the contributions that currently go to Social Security (12.4% of wages) and throw them into penny stocks.  In my particular situation, I can beat the return of Social Security by putting your money into 30 year treasuries (this is not an exaggeration – my rate of return on Social Security is projected to be slightly over 2%).  Your mileage may vary a bit, but the reality is that you don’t need to take on a lot of risk to beat the return of social security (in my case, no additional risk).

This issue is probably a bit outside my range, as I don’t know that it has 43%.  However, I do feel that the issue would have considerably more support if it were properly explained on a bigger stage.

I doubt that these are the two issues that you care most about.  However, I suspect that you have a number of issues that are important to you and also competitive  – make sure your view is represented on these issues.

What Is The Answer For Gay Marriage?

August 9, 2010

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Last week a federal judge determined that proposition 8 was unconstitutional.  Proposition 8 is an amendment to the constitution of the state of Californian which forbids gay marriage by inserting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman.  This proposition and the judge’s ruling have created a firestorm of news articles.  Now I am a not a social conservative, therefore I do not really have a strong opinion as to whether a gay couple’s relationship should be labeled as a marriage, a union or any other term.  My concern is with the unintended consequences of this argument.

First, let’s look at the amendment.  It is rather simple and is focused on the definition; one man and one woman.  It was passed by a super majority of the people of California.  I am not a lawyer, but from what I can tell, this amendment only pertained to marriage in California and did not block the recognition of gay marriages from other states such as Massachusetts.  This presents a problem for the state at least at the tax level, as California does have separated tax tables for married couples just like the federal government.  How do your recognize something that could not have happened in the state?  That is just one of many ramifications.

Now let’s look at the Judge’s decision.  The judge stated that the amendment was discriminatory and therefore violated the United States Constitution.  This is interesting in that the United States Constitution has very specific things that are protected from discrimination, and gay marriage is not one of them.  I am not debating whether this is discrimination or not, I am just looking at the consequences.  IF we eliminate the definition, which was apparently not needed in the past, we have to consider what we do for other forms of marriage.  Does this decision mean that polygamy lays are unconstitutional?  Again, this is just one example.

In the past, we have had laws and constitutional amendments that now seem rather silly.  Until the 1960’s there were still laws forbidding interracial marriage.  Does this latest round of legal intrigue fall into this category?  If we look further into our history, we can see other laws and institutions that have been supported by majorities of the people and even upheld by the supreme court, later to be changed or thrown out.  I cannot predict the future, but these arguments which are so important today will at some future date seem rather odd to school children, if it is even mentioned at all.  I can predict that this issue will continue to be the source of many spiteful comments as each group believes that they are on the moral high ground.

The full text of the proposal is copied below from


This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution.  This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution byadding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.

SECTION 1. Title

This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”

SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read:

SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The full text of the Judge’s decision can be found at

3 Things

August 16, 2009

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So three things caught my attention this week that I feel are worth sharing. They range from comical to serious, so enjoy!

The Pursuit of Knowledge

So it often works out that when I am eating lunch, my television is tuned to Trivial Pursuit: America Plays hosted by Christopher Knight. I have always enjoyed Trivial Pursuit, so I find watching it on television to still be entertaining but also educational. I have seen before on other shows such as Jeopardy questions asked of Americans about basic Canadian facts only to see them completely mess up the answer. Well today’s question was “What province is Halifax the capital of?” Well only one of the participants had the bravery to provide an answer. His answer was “Ontarrrio”. Notice that his answer wasn’t Ontario (pronounced On-tear-e-o) but On-tar-e-o. Of course this is incorrect. I was actually surprised he chose this province, as the capital of Ontario is Canada’s biggest and most famous city, Toronto. I know it’s funny, but at the same time I do admit that I do not know all of the State capitals, so perhaps I should shut my mouth. I did end up feeling smarter than the contestants of the show though, as I knew the state capital of Ohio was Columbus while both of them did not (first guess Cleveland, second guess Cincinnati). Oh and by the way, Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia.

Michael Vick Soars Again

Many people have heard of Michael Vick, whether they are a fan of the NFL or not. Well Michael is now officially back in the NFL, having signed a two year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. When it comes to strictly improving your football team, this is a good move. He will have to shake off a fair bit of rust, but can slide comfortably into the backup role behind Donovan McNabb while he gets back into game shape. The only question is how this will affect the team in terms of its image. As a pet owner, I was as disgusted as anyone for what he did. While he did serve his time and pay his debt to society, I still really find myself despising him. I work with people with intellectual disabilities and even they know better than Vick when it came to what he did with those dogs. I personally hope his career is over and that he is heckled thoroughly everywhere he goes. This is one I just can’t get my head past.

Tim Horton’s

I don’t know what there is in the States to match this franchise. Dunkin Donuts perhaps? Tim Horton’s is a symbol of Canada like no other. It is our favourite place to have a coffee and donut. The franchise has actually expanding into a few northern States as well. Every morning drive-thru lines are packed, and lineups go out the doors as people will do anything to “get their Timmies”. Many people have bumper stickers to this effect. This week though, Tim’s got some publicity it didn’t want, as it was apparently a sponsor of a big anti-gay festival in Rhode Island. After news of this got out, they pulled out their support, claiming it was just one specific franchise owner in the area. This was definitely the right move, as many Canadians are open to gay marriage and full gay rights and the backlash up here would have been strong. I give kudos to the franchise for acting quickly to get this mess straightened out. On another note, I don’t see myself visiting Providence anytime soon.  

Warm Feet

August 14, 2009

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Note: the topic of this story is gay marriage.  While the story itself is positive in tone, I do realize that this is a controversial subject.  If you feel that this story may upset you, this would be the time to stop reading and peruse another of the many articles at The Soap Boxers.

Kate Kubek took a moment to gather her thoughts. Today, the day she would marry her best friend, had been reached after a long and winding journey.

Kate remembered peeking through the curtains of her parents’ house, watching the Mayflower van pull into the driveway next door. Her parents forbid her from visiting the new neighbors until they were settled in their house. Kate dutifully obeyed her mother and father, but kept up on the drama by manning her station near the window. Almost immediately, her excitement had been intensified by the presence of a young girl in pigtails – a girl who seemed to be about seven years old, too.

After waiting for what seemed like years (but was actually just a few days), her parents allowed her to go next door to visit. She carried a plate of her mother’s chocolate chip cookies as a “welcome to the neighborhood” present. The girl next door – Robyn – was excited to meet a girl her own age, and thus began a wonderful friendship.

During the summer, they spent countless hours in the warm sun playing tag, hide-and-go-seek, and even trying their hand at croquet. Their croquet matches were an utter failure when judged by the quality of the execution – but a rousing success when judged by the decibels of their laughter.

As the leaves began to display vibrant hues and the wind began to blow with cold intensity, they retreated behind the brick walls of Robyn’s house. Winters were spent playing Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, as well as that rite of passage of every young girl – Barbie dolls.

The girls quickly became inseparable. Kate’s parents had a standing invitation open to Robyn, and the Murphy family reciprocated by welcoming Kate into their home at every opportunity. Kate and Robyn even took summer vacations together.

When the girls finally were old enough to date, it was only logical that they would double date. They would help each other with their hair and makeup and chat excitedly about the fun they would have on their dates.

However, regardless of how handsome, smart, and charming the boys were, neither of them ever felt that magic feeling of being in love. Some day, surely, their princes would come.

Kate slowly began to realize that she had feelings for Robyn that went beyond friendship. She was scared at first – scared that unrequited love would mean the end to a friendship that meant the world to her. Finally, in their dorm room late one night during their freshman year in college, Kate broke down and told Robyn about her feelings. Robyn began to cry. Between sobs, Robyn told her that she felt the same way. As they held each other and shared a first kiss, they finally experienced the electric feeling of love.

They kept their relationship a secret for nearly a year before they could no longer hold it in and confided to their parents. Their parents were in heavy denial at first. Eventually, however, they couldn’t help but see the love that Kate and Robyn felt for each other, and in time the families grew to accept their relationship and eventually to support them fully. Kate and Robyn knew that they were incredibly fortunate to have such supportive families – many other lesbian couples experienced hatred from within their own families.

A loud squeak interrupted her thoughts.

“Kate, honey,” called out her mother, “It’s time to go. You don’t want to be late for your own wedding.”

Kate smiled, got to her feet, and followed her mother up the stairs.

As an extra long version of “Here Comes the Bride” played, Kate took her father’s arm and walked up the aisle toward the front of the church. Butterflies began to flutter slightly in her stomach. She looked toward the front of the church – there were three bridesmaids on each side, with Robyn standing in the middle.

When they reached the front of the church, Kate stood next to Robyn and held her hands. As they gazed into each other’s eyes, they each felt the power of the love they felt for each other, amplified by the support of the family that had gathered to share their special day.

Today was the first day of the rest of their lives. What a wonderful life it would be.

News Recap

May 18, 2009

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Auto dealers

Nearly 2000 auto dealers were informed by GM or Chrylser of the manufacturer’s plans to terminate franchise agreements.  The impact to GM and Chrysler is not likely to be very large.  For example, 90% of Chrysler’s sales volume come from about 50% of their dealers.  Stand this stat on its head, and it tells you that Chrysler could terminate agreements with half their dealers and lose only 10% of their revenue.  For the dealers affected – many of them longtime family businesses – the impact will be much larger.  Some dealerships were diversified with agreements with multiple manufacturers and should be able to make up some of the shortfall by focusing on selling the other brands.  Others, however, had all their eggs in one manufacturer’s basket and will simply be unable to sell new cars unless they are able to procure a franchise agreement with another manufacturer.

Gay marriage

Gay marriage continues to be a hot topic.  California’s supreme court is set to rule on whether or not to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage that was enacted by proposition 8.  The court overturned the previous ban on gay marriage last May.  New Hampshire’s governor has said that he would approve a gay marriage bill if the legislature changes the bill to allow certain protections for churches.  The legislature will vote on the altered bill this week.  Gay marriage is being debated in several other states.  Currently, gay marriage is legal is 6 states – California, Connececticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachussetts,and Vermont.  Once this numbers gets to about 15, I think there will be a tidal wave of states that pass bill allowing it.  With Democrats (who are bigger proponents of gay rights) in control in many states, this would be the ideal time for them to move forward with gay marriage bills, expecially with a currently high level of public support.

Governors and Senators

Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson has decided resign in order to run for governor in 2010.  On the flip side, Florida governor Charlie Crist has decided to run for senate in 2010.  As critical as Florida has been in recent elections, a Democratic pickup in the Florida governorship could be just what the Dems need to tilt the balance a bit more to the left.

On the Bunning front, Kentucky Republican senator Jim Bunning has decided that he will indeed run for re-election, in spite of previous reports to the contrary.  Ron Paul’s son, Rand, may join in the fray in the Republican primary.  Circle this one as a race to watch.  Hall of Fame pitcher Bunning has become an embarrasment for his party, and his won party make seek to undermine his efforts at re-election.  Bunning narrowly won in 2004 and would likely lose to a strong Democratic challenger.

Farrah Fawcett

There’s another reason to like Farrah Fawcett.  She became convinced that someone at UCLA medical center was leaking her medical records to the press.  In order to confirm her suspicions, she intentionally withheld news from her family and friends when her cancer returned in 2007.  When the information found its way to the National Enquirer, Fawcett knew that someone at UCLA was the source.  An investigation found that employee Lawanda Jackson was responsible for the leaks.  Jackson was convicted, but died of cancer before she could be sentenced.

Fawcett’s actions have raised awareness of the seriousness of patient privacy and the need for harsh penalties for those who breach that privacy.


Note: inaccurate information regarding the California Supreme Court has been corrected.

News wrapup

April 13, 2009

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For those of you who are paying attention, I am going to swap the news and sports days.  News will be on Mondays, Sports on Tuesday.

Minnesota Senate

I have already lampooned this situation once, but this election continues to be contested.  Al Franken leads Norm Coleman by 312 votes.  Coleman is very likely to appeal to the Minnesota supreme court, and if he loses there, the US Supreme Court (although I’m not sure why the SCOTUS would hear a case that appears to be fundamentally a state issue).

I’m not going to put one party at fault.  If Franken was 312 votes behind, it is likely that he would be following the same steps.  However, as months and possibly years go by as this election is sorted out, Minnesota will be have only one US Senator.  It would be beneficial for the citizens of Minnesota if a quick solution could be hammered out, although I am not sure what that solution would be.

Palin / Johnston

Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, the father of her child, recently broke up.  Certainly that is unfortunate.  What is even worse is that the Johnstons and Palins have been taking pot shots at each other in the media.  Come on, folks, let’s keep the dirty laundry behind closed doors.

Gay Marriage

Last week, the supreme court in my home state of Iowa struck down a legislative ban on gay marriage.  Iowa is the first state outside of New England to legalize gay marriage.  Republicans in the legislature would like to add a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (which would invalidate the Court’s opinion that the existing law was unconstitutional).  This is not likely to happen for a while, though.  Such an bill would have to be passed in two consecutive sessions of the legislature before being place on the ballot.  The majority leaders seem to not be interested in pursuing such a course of action.

In Vermont, the legislature legalized gay marriage.  This is the first instance of a legislature, rather than a state court, legalizing gay marriage.  The bill had broad support in the legislature, as they needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

I personally applaud these decision.s  Many people say that this will tear apart the fabric of traditional marriage.  I disagree.  Divorce and domestic violence are the problems that are tearing apart the fabric of traditional marriage.  I have come to believe that sexual orientation is largely a biological issue.  I do not believe that the vast majority of gays choose that orientation.  If it was a matter of choice, why would people choose a path that is filled with so much hatred and so many obstacles?  Recent polls show that public support for gay marriage and civil unions is on the rise; I feel that it is a matter of time before gay marriage is legal in all states (although it may taken a few more decades).