This will be remembered as the watershed year for the gay marriage question, and I think, in the long run, the opponents have a losing cause on their hands.

Regardless of the President’s support, there won’t be a federal marriage amendment this year. A head-count this week shows not enough senators in favor of it to even make the vote close.

If it can’t happen now, it certainly won’t happen a couple of years from now, because the history of our nation shows that, as time passes, the USA progresses. Restrictions are removed, rights are extended, tolerance grows. At this point, the horse is out of the barn. She may not have made it all the way around the paddock yet, but she’s not going to be forced back into that stall.

We’re not just talking San Francisco here. In the last week alone, local leaders from Sandoval, New Mexico, to New Paltz, New York, to the heartland of Chicago, Illinois, have all expressed support for and/or begun the process of allowing gay couples to marry. Major corporations like Anheuser-Busch, Kodak, ChevronTexaco, and Wells Fargo have long offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Meanwhile, since there won’t be any further action at the federal level, the opposition is moving forward with proposals in the state legislatures. My guess is that those will be temporary measures that will last a decade at most.

As for the arguments, I get calls and e-mails on the topic from both sides of the cultural chasm. Since I’m a supporter of keeping government out of the private lives of its citizens, I’ll share with you some comments from opponents who have called or written me.

Some of it is as simple as, “you just don’t understand that’s what wrong is wrong.” My reply is that we have different definitions of what’s wrong. Others are opposed on religious grounds, which is fine, but in this country, we don’t play majority rule with religion.

Another e-mailer wrote, “I don’t want my children growing up and thinking there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle, which is chosen and not cast upon by birth! This is what’s wrong with the world today! No one has any morals anymore. Seems like every other TV show today has a gay on it. These people can go back to the closet as far as I’m concerned!”

Frankly, you can’t have a rational conversation with anyone who refers to any group as “these people.” That phrase harkens back to so many previous battles over prejudice, including not so long ago when interracial marriage was a touchy subject. However, I did ask this guy one question — if being gay is a choice, then not being gay is the other choice, so at what point in your life did you make that specific decision? Was there a day, maybe in your teens, when you could have gone either way, being attracted to either someone of your sex or the opposite sex, and consciously chose to be heterosexual?

He didn’t answer.

One of my other questions, to which no opponent of gay marriage has come up with a logical, reasoned answer, is: when you say “allowing gays to marry will destroy the institution of marriage,” what does that mean? It’s a cute catch phrase, guaranteed to rally the already-converted, I’m sure, but what exactly will the implications be? Would straight couples stop getting married? Will more currently-married couples begin getting divorced? Will it lead to a national outbreak of adultery?

Then there’s this one, from another e-mailer: “Human reproduction would stop if we were all gay.” Of course, no one is suggesting that we should all be gay, but this is part of the “marriage is about procreation” argument. That’s another fallacy.

Marriage — in legal terms — is not about procreation. No law requires that a married couple produce offspring, nor is their union voided if they don’t, nor do you have to be married to have a child. If you’re only going to allow people who will procreate to marry, you must force couples to take a fertility test along with their blood test, and make them sign a document swearing that they will have at least one child.

While you’re at it, you also have to stop licensing the marriage of every post-menopausal woman! Not very likely, is it?

Gay marriage will be a hot-button political issue for pundits and politicians to scream about in this election year, but the real bottom line is that most Americans don’t care. Sure, they’ll express an opinion (evenly divided nationally) when asked directly by a pollster, but they’re much too busy with what’s going on in their own private lives to worry about what other people are doing with theirs — and wish politicans would address more important issues.

Let’s be honest. If anyone is responsible for “weakening the institution of marriage,” it is us, the heterosexuals. We’re the ones who make hit shows out of “The Bachelorette,” “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fianc√©,” and who can forget Rick Rockwell and Darva Conger?

We’re also the ones who allow teenagers to marry. There are many places in the US where you can legally marry at age 16. Sixteen! We’re all still idiots at that age, not yet familiar with the harsh realities of the adult world. At 16, you can’t enter into most other legally binding agreements, yet you can get a marriage license (in Alabama, until 2003, the minimum age for marriage was fourteen — you were so young you had to have someone else drive you to the ceremony!).

How can we tell high school kids they can enter this “institution,” but a lesbian couple in their forties that’s been together for years and years that they can’t?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get a wedding gift for Rosie O’Donnell and Kelli Carpenter. I hear they’re registered at Steak & Shake.