As we head into our own experiment with regime change, gay issues will be pushed yet again towards the forefront of American political debate. But this will not be a rehashing of the '92 cycle, with a potential president making lofty promises to the gay community only to break them when a conservative wind blows his way. Instead, candidates will rush to assure the American voter that they will oppose any attempt to legalize homosexual unions or support a codified definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Unfortunately, with the conservative Republican party entrenched against them and the more moderate Democratic party having abandoned them, gays and lesbians can be assured that this promise will remain inviolate.

Following the Supreme Court's surprising anti-sodomy law decision in Lawrence v. Texas, Senate conservatives, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, have set the tone with a proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would define marriage as a union between two people of the opposite sex. Considering the so-called anti-gay backlash since the court issued its opinion in June and the states' resounding support for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act's similar designation, the ratification of this twenty-eighth amendment is virtually inevitable. So, for the first time in American history, our nation's most sacred document will be altered to narrow rather than expand the definition of liberty, in a blatant violation of its most basic founding principles.

At this dismal time, I have come not to defend my hopes for freedom but to eulogize them. The small glimmer of faith in an ultimately just conclusion to the gay struggle I once had has been dimmed by the oncoming darkness that lies ahead. Just ten short years ago, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community had reason to believe that a new day had dawned for us. For the first time, a seated American president voiced his solidarity with our movement for equality. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton reneged on the deal he'd cut with the gay left and other social movements, pushing his party further to the right in the process. Now, we face a time when a nation far to the right of the rest of the civilized world will determine our fates. Potential victories will be sacrificed to maintain the status quo before we are pushed further backward into the dreary times from which we came. Some of our nation's most sacred tenets will be casualties in the new "war on gayness."

Unfortunately, the first amendment will be the first to fall. Freedom of religion and the separation of church and state have always been fundamentally and uniquely American. The rise of fundamentalism in the 1980's and its ever increasing influence on our national discourse have chipped away at this most basic freedom until it is ready to topple at the slightest push. The upcoming Federal Marriage Amendment may very well be the shove that sends it crashing into the dirt. Politicians on every level of government have called upon "traditional" Judeo-Christian values to attack any potential enactment of gay marriage or civil union legislation in the states. Marriage is a religious institution, they argue, granted only to heterosexuals by the law of G-d and the teachings of his followers.

They're wrong on two counts. First, they forget that marriage is primarily a social institution created and ratified by society. No religious institution will perform a marriage unless it is first licensed by the state. On the other hand, religious institutions can refuse to perform any ceremony not in keeping with their particular interpretations of the will of their supreme being or beings. That's why we have civil marriage to allow people access to this institution without approval by any religious sect. Otherwise, atheists, agnostics, divorced people, and interfaith couples would not be able to marry. Second, many religious leaders and organizations have spoken out in favor of gay marriage. The theological interpretations of many Buddhists, Pagans, Jews, and Christians hold marriage as as much of a moral obligation and no less an inherent human right for the homosexual minority as for the heterosexual majority. Of course, these groups cannot perform marriage ceremonies per se for gay couples because the state refuses to ratify them. Thus, many gay people are prevented from adequately fulfilling their moral obligations because of the state's adherence to one particular religious view of marriage as the "correct" one.

Next to go: the fourteenth amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. Through the institution of marriage, local, state, and federal laws protect heterosexual couples from any number of potential mishaps as well as granting them certain privileges. Some of these are financial, relating to taxes, inheritance, and property ownership. Others are more personal, relating to parenting, citizenship, and the right to make legal, financial, and medical decisions for an incapacitated partner. Certain relationship functions can be replicated through expensive and exhaustive legal documents like living wills, wills, second parent adoptions, and powers of attorney. Most, however, cannot and even those that can depend upon the state in which a gay couple lives. This potential amendment will codify a separate but unequal status for gay couples that will permanently deprive them of the protected legal status that millions of heterosexuals already enjoy.

Following equal protection down the rabbit hole will be the conservatives' much touted family values. Fundamentalists often quote their perverted image of "family values" as an argument against gay marriage. Marriage is for procreation, they claim (despite the thousands of legal marriages performed for couples who cannot or will not reproduce). Children need the stable family environment of monogamous marriages. Gay marriage will destroy monogamy, so it's bad for the children. Perhaps this will be a surprise to people who live under rocks, but gay people have monogamous relationships and they reproduce.

Under current law, however, the children born of gay unions are deprived of the stable family environment that conservatives protect so vehemently. True, a woman can't get her lesbian lover pregnant. They would have to have children from previous heterosexual relationships or use artificial means. On the other hand, a sterile male cannot get his wife pregnant, but he would be the legal father of any child born during their marriage regardless of any biological connection or lack thereof. Why should children born of gay couples not have the protection of two legal parents that can provide for them emotionally, financially, and medically as necessary regardless of biology? Don't these children require or deserve a stable family environment? Surely, after all the scientific evidence proving that gay parents are as qualified to raise healthy, well adjusted heterosexual children as heterosexual ones, the conservatives don't still think that kids born of gay parents are "damaged" by their parents' sexual orientation or "recruited" into homosexuality. Surely, they understand that all kids need the same things regardless of who their parents are. Don't they? Obviously not, but the law should. Depriving children of stability and protection because you don't like what their parents do behind closed doors is unacceptable and inhumane.

So, ultimately, when the current crop of presidential wannabes march onto the national stage, they'll be beating an old drum to a new rhythm. Where once attention to gay and lesbian issues resounded like a victory march, it will now be a funeral dirge. Jim Crow will have a little brother in the codified separate but not equal status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Americans. However, while segregation characterized a nation divided by bigotry, this new amendment will represent a country unified by it.

Of course, there are other areas in which gay people will continue to strive for equality: anti-discrimination laws, hate crimes legislation, and laws to protect gay and lesbian students from harassment. But the current crop of gay adults may die never having known the true freedom promised to them by the principles outlined in the U.S. Constitution. They will never know what it is to be judged by the content of their characters rather than the activities carried out in their bedrooms. Perhaps someday, a new generation will. We can only hope that they'll appreciate it and pass it on to someone new.