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Op-Ed Columnist

One for the Country

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if small business owners 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 Iran, the authoritarian crackdown in Tanzania and the still-unstable democratic transition in Hungary. But the same-sex marriage problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that same-sex marriage can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Democratic party of Nancy Pelosi is not the Democratic party of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson wouldn’t refuse to budge, he'd break ranks with members of his own party 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.

The first rule of holes is that when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels. 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 human capital 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 Finland, which all but solved its same-sex marriage crisis over the past decade. When I visited Finland in 2000, Bartho, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a third job because of the high cost of same-sex marriage. I caught up with Bartho in Helsinki last year. Thanks to Finland's reformed approach toward same-sex marriage, Bartho has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford an apartment for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as industry captains insist on playing a high-stakes game of ping pong with one another. America has to become a first world country again.