Ironic, isn't it? While more heterosexual couples than ever are choosing to live together unmarried, gay men and women are demanding the right to marry.

It's OK with me — and also with the president and vice president of the United States — but it's obviously not with many Americans, perhaps most. Polls and surveys show fierce opposition.

When gay marriage is on the ballot, it's usually rejected. It's become a major political issue — to some, more important than the economy.

I'm not sure why anyone else should care if gay people want to get married. It's certainly nobody else's business. And why shouldn't gay Americans have the same privileges and legal protections that other Americans have, including those provided by marriage?

What's at stake, some say, is the "sanctity of marriage" — whatever that is. My wife and I are nearing our 60th wedding anniversary, and in all those years, sanctity doesn't seem to have had anything to do with it. What do other people's living arrangements have to do with mine — or yours?

I guess sanctity refers to marriage as a religious ceremony. But nobody is telling churches how they should operate; how they do marriage is up to them. This is strictly an issue of legality.

Younger people seem less concerned about this than their elders, probably because they have had so much more exposure to the existence of homosexuality than we did.

This may get to the real issue. Years ago, homosexuality was seldom mentioned, if at all. And what we did learn about it was laced with misinformation and prejudice.

"Just what is it you people do?" an avuncular Philadelphia City Council leader asked years ago of a delegation that was protesting police raids on gay coffee houses. His ignorance was not unusual at the time.

But the legal status of same-sex marriage should have little to do with religion or morality. It's a matter of rights and, as such, should be immune from public opinion or referendums. Rights are not to be granted by majorities. Rights are what everyone has a right to — regardless of majority sentiment.

If homosexuality makes you uncomfortable, so be it. The Constitution cannot guarantee you a certain level of comfort. But it does guarantee you the same rights and privileges that all Americans enjoy. And all means all.

Don Harrison is a longtime Philadelphia newspaper editor and writer. He can be reached at