Walking around the marble corridors of the State House this week, where the aura of importance is rarely matched by the reality of what goes on, I couldn't put aside one nagging thought: What an incredible waste.
What an incredible waste that gay marriage is what's deemed to be the most urgent, provocative, emotional issue on Beacon Hill in the year 2004. What an incredible waste that this is what drives the Bible-toting moralists to political activism. What an incredible waste that this is what prompts our leaders to set all other issues aside and devote themselves to results.
There they were, thousands of rabid protesters chanting across an emotional divide, a couple of hundred reporters and cameramen recording every word and move, legislators worried about how they will look on the 6 o'clock news.
Imagine, for one brief but glorious moment, if we devoted this kind of attention, this kind of activism, this kind of ambition to something that might matter a little bit more to the everyday lives of regular people?
Imagine if the Legislature put together a marathon session to address health care? Imagine if impassioned speech followed impassioned speech about the travesty of seniors forgoing food and splitting pills to ration their daily medicine?
Imagine if the body politic threw itself at the tragedy and inequity that there are children on streets in Roxbury and Mattapan who aren't allowed to play in their front yards because their mothers live in fear that they might get shot?
Imagine if Mitt Romney wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal about affordable housing or safer prisons?
Imagine if the Boston hierarchy of the Catholic Church had addressed its own pedophile scandal with the same urgency and vehemence that they're showing over the personal lives of gays?
Unimaginable, all of it, especially walking among the jeering activists lining Beacon Street, the men in clerical collars, the legislators with shellshocked looks on their usually smug faces.
And all this is for what? Because a couple of women down the street or a pair of guys around the block want to openly declare their love and legally validate their commitment to one another? For this we shriek and knot ourselves up like pretzels and put every other issue of any possible relevance on hold?
Personally, I arrive at a position on gay marriage the way I suspect many others do: by default. I ask a few simple questions. Will gay marriage cheapen heterosexual marriage? Not a chance, though pity the poor slob whose marriage it does. In a society with a 50 percent divorce rate, gay marriage is the least of the threats.
Will it adversely affect my quality of life? Just the opposite. If anything, marriage contributes to stability. In a stable relationship, couples buy property together. They pay more taxes. They invest themselves in their neighborhoods. In a transient society, these are good things.
What will be different in America in six months if gays are allowed to marry? Absolutely nothing, except that everyone will have the same rights as everyone else, with access and opportunity protected for all. That's what the Constitution was supposed to protect, and now so many people want to change it.
Bottom line: I'm in favor because there's no reason to be opposed. It's not a liberal stance, or even a particularly progressive one. It's just common sense.
But as the activists scream and fight on Beacon Hill, people, real people, continue to suffer over matters that are hard to resolve and too easily ignored. Where are the cries for the poor?
Reporter's note: Delta Airlines refunded the $300 penalty it had assessed Judy Santa and Florencio Esteban, the subjects of Tuesday's column, when they missed their flight to Guatemala on Monday. Esteban, an immigrant laborer, has terminal brain cancer and is returning home to die; Santa is the hospice worker escorting him. The pair has arrived in Guatemala safe and sound.
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.