Last week we saw three potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, address some aspect of gay rights, and all three agreed in essence that gay marriage is no longer a federal issue.
That's both smart politics — a way to avoid offending either traditional-marriage supporters or a general electorate that increasingly sees gay marriage as a constitutional right — and legal reality. The Supreme Court booted the issue back to the states, where it will remain for the indefinite future.
Yet the three men's answers were also irrelevant. Since the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, there won't be federal legislation on the subject, and the potential for a constitutional amendment has evaporated.
So why should those who want to be president answer the question?
Long ago, politicians should have held the line against discussing a great many topics. Not everything is a political issue, nor one on which politicians have any particular insight. Creationism? Unless you are running for school board and intend to be guided by your religious convictions, your opinion does not matter. Born again? None of my business.
In our Oprah-ized world it certainly is not fashionable for politicians to hold anything back. When Bill Clinton answered the "boxers or briefs" question, we passed the point at which people felt any inhibition about asking personal questions. And unfortunately pols seemed to believe it was no longer their right to tell interviewers something was none of their business.
At this point, though questions about creationism, gay marriage and other value-specific questions serve no purpose other than to provide targets for faux outrage. The questions are designed to divide the population into believers and nonbelievers, between those who share the same cultural touchstones and those who differ.
If a topic has no relevance to public policy or character or fitness to serve, why ask the question and why answer it? We aren't electing pastors, family counselors or philosophers; we're electing politicians whose job description and qualifications don't include a great many topics. If we are heading for a more tolerant society, we have to agree to disagree on some issues and to respect some realm of private opinion and faith.
By steering clear of many irrelevant topics, we might actually raise the level of debate on topics that demand our attention.