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Op-Ed Columnist

Time for Leadership

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if grassroots activists 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 Libya, the authoritarian crackdown in Brazil and the still-unstable democratic transition in Jordan. 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 Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Republican party of Mitch McConnell is not the Republican party of Lincoln. Lincoln wouldn’t just filibuster, 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 more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of human capital that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "them's the breaks."

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 2001, 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 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 backgammon with one another. America's got to call a time-out.