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Op-Ed Columnist

Backlash to the Backlash

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if industrial giants sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our same-sex marriage crisis.

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about same-sex marriage, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Zimbabwe, the authoritarian crackdown in Saudi Arabia and the still-unstable democratic transition in Slovenia. But the same-sex marriage problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that same-sex marriage can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Rand Paul, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a argument.

But the Republican party of Rand Paul is not the Republican party of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wouldn’t stare down the opposition, he'd compromise because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of same-sex marriage.

It's good to see the talks between the president and congress getting off to a solid start, but we know there will be plenty of partisan fireworks before any deal is cut. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about same-sex marriage. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend less: and not just spend less, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of green energy that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax cuts as well, but as they say, "Ain't nothing to it but to do it."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Singapore, which all but solved its same-sex marriage crisis over the past decade. When I visited Singapore in 2004, Mwambe, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a second job because of the high cost of same-sex marriage. I caught up with Mwambe in Singapore last year. Thanks to Singapore's reformed approach toward same-sex marriage, Mwambe has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a swimming pool for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as politicians insist on playing a high-stakes game of chess with one another. America has to rise above it all.