I wonder if we might have a quick discussion about the upcoming marriage amendment. I know you're confused by the things you hear at church and from some of your friends, and I'm here to help. Just you and me. Face to face. Man to man ... um, in a hetero sort of way, of course.

You see, I've heard all the arguments for defining marriage as between one man and one woman -- the sanctity of the institution, the slippery slope (brothers marrying sisters!) and so on -- but I'd like to offer a quick reality check on what a "yes" vote will actually do and what it will not do.

After all, my conservative pal, you're a straight-laced, straight-talking fellow, who likes to keep his facts ... well, you know.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is what a yes vote and passage of the amendment will not do:

• It will not stop people from being gay. Nope. There is no such thing as antifairy dust. That guy in the coffee shop will not suddenly begin gawking at miniskirts and buying clashing furniture. There has been homosexuality among humans since Adam and Steve walked the Earth eons ago, and if you think it's a choice, then you have not been paying attention. Consider this: Mychal Judge, the Catholic priest who died at the foot of the World Trade Center while helping New York firefighters, was both gay and celibate. Repeat after me: There is no lifestyle. You're either gay or you're not. Period.

• Voting yes will not stop gay couples from bearing or adopting children and raising them together. There are families near you doing just that right now, and, aside from some creative naming challenges for each parent, they're normal families with normal joys and normal struggles. There is precisely zero chance of changing this.

• Voting yes will not improve your own marriage. If you and your spouse's happiness depends on who else is married to whom, you don't need to be in the voting booth. You need to be in counseling.

• Finally -- get a load of this -- voting yes will not stop gay couples from getting married. Wait, what?? How can that be? Well, I hate to be the one to tell you, but gay couples have been walking down the aisle, saying "I will," wearing rings, cutting cake and going on honeymoons for years -- right here in Minnesota. Many pastors and priests will marry a gay couple -- after decent premarital counseling, of course. Jane can still refer to her "wife" and Steve can still gripe about his "husband" and, unless we want to set up a Nazi-like state, where we control how people speak in public, that isn't going to change, either.

Well, gosh, if a yes vote won't stop any of those things, what will it actually accomplish? From a practical standpoint, absolutely nothing: Gay marriage is already illegal in Minnesota -- meaning that the state doesn't recognize a family when it sees one.

So, why have we spent all the time and money to place the question on the ballot this November? Well, the stated reason is to protect marriage from the scary, deviant gays who will surely do something terrible to the institution by, well, honoring it.

The real reason it's on the ballot is to create an issue that will excite and encourage social conservatives to come to the voting booths this November and vote against Democrats. This is right out of the Karl Rove and ALEC playbook: make 'em scared, make 'em mad, make 'em vote.

So, let's summarize: If you vote yes on the marriage amendment, gays will still be here. They will still have relationships. They will still have ceremonies, pledging to love and honor one another, and will still adopt, bear and raise children together -- as a family. That horse, you should have noticed by now, has already left the barn, jumped the gate, run down the road -- and is looking fabulous.

Here, then, is what a yes vote will do: It will make sure that these families can never share health insurance. Or have guaranteed hospital visitation rights. Or allow their estates to automatically go to one another in case of death. Or buy a family fishing license. Or a joint college savings account. The list goes on.

Same-sex couples are denied more than 515 state rights that pertain to married couples and 1,100 federal ones; a yes vote will make that denial a permanent part of the Minnesota Constitution. That's it. So, we can talk about defending marriage and values until the cows come home. The only thing this amendment will do is make a very long list of legal and financial benefits forever unattainable for these families.

Do you really care if a gay couple gets to file their taxes together or buys a family fishing license? Because when it really comes down to it, that's all they want. Whether we call them married, coupled, partnered or unioned is beside the point. They're going to use whatever term they feel like using, and nobody can do squat about it.

So, not only should you vote no on the amendment, you should begin to consider the family-friendly thing: giving same-sex couples the 515-plus rights that they deserve. It's the right thing to do. It's the practical thing to do. It's not hard to imagine them being married, raising children and having families. Because they already are.


Robert Saxton, of Bemidji, is a writer. To read more marriage amendment commentaries, go here. Also, the Opinion section is launching a newsletter this fall. Please sign up here: http://bit.ly/kJ1b61