I woke this morning in Elgin, Ill., and pointed the nose of the rental car toward Madison, Wis.
My leg of the National Organization for Marriage's 23-city "Summer for Marriage" bus tour began last Friday in Columbus, Ohio, and ended at noon on Tuesday with a rally on the statehouse steps in Madison.
Earlier this month, in Providence, R.I., several hundred very angry and very morally self-confident protesters stormed the podium, trying to shout down NOM president Brian Brown, and failing in that endeavor, satisfied themselves with hurling insults and threats at small children.
One pro-gay marriage advocate said: "You better watch that kid or I'm going to kidnap him." Of course, he didn't mean it, right?
We've taken to showing the video to cops in other tour stops in advance, just to make sure they know what could happen. In Columbus, our folks were a little concerned, but the cops reassured us: "Nothing like that is going to happen here."
Sure enough, when one young firebrand urged the crowd to storm NOM's podium in Columbus, the cops made it clear that was a very poor idea.
Why do you need cops to enforce basic norms of civility? Should it really require courage to say that to make a marriage you need a husband and a wife?
There's a certain ritual quality to this exercise of American democracy, on both sides. We trod on well-worn paths our forefathers laid out, amplified by new technology. The Providence outrages may cut down on the number that physically show up for marriage, but they also helped dramatically swell the crowds joining NOM's new virtual bus tour at www.marriagetour2010.com. For the first time, we brought our own videographer along, making us far less dependent on the mainstream media to get our message out to our folks.
Similarly, pro-gay marriage folks spend $35,000 to hire a camera to follow us around, as if we were some big-time political campaign. Kind of flattering, really, if a little silly.
Looking across the square in Columbus toward the counter-protesters, I saw a group of young people full of passionate zeal that flamed into fierce, hot anger at those who dare to disagree with them. "Hate is not a family value," they shouted. And from the podium, I agreed.
"Hate is not a family value," I told the marriage supporters. "And the 62 percent of Ohioans who came together across lines of race, creed and color to protect marriage as one man and one woman in the Ohio Constitution are not haters, and it's just wrong for anyone to call them that."
It's good to get out of the bubble, to come face-to-face with those with whom we passionately disagree.
In Indianapolis a few days later, I looked across from the east steps of the Capitol, past the protesters to the magnificent Civil War memorial, a fountain topped by an obelisk in a piazza that spoke deeply of the city fathers' grand and cosmopolitan ambitions, and of trials we can only imagine.
The protesters I can see are mostly young, and caught up in the drama in their mind. If they are to be the moral heroes, who is the villain? In their own heads, these young folks are joining a great civil rights drama. They missed the original civil rights movement; they missed the '60s; even the sexual revolution is just old hat, something their mamas did. This is their moment, here on the streets of Indianapolis or Columbus or Madison -- this is their Selma.
Only instead of a pack of cops with dogs and hoses determined to strip them of their rights, backed up by an angry potential lynch mob, there's just me, a plump middle-aged woman, speaking for millions of Americans who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
"Marriage deserves its unique status because these are the only unions that can make new life and connect those children in love to their own mother and father," I tell them.
"We love you, Maggie! We forgive you, Maggie! Jesus forgives you, Maggie!" the kid with a bullhorn shouted, trying to drown out our own speakers. They were an ambivalent group, trying briefly to raise the higher angels of their natures, like Martin Luther King Jr. But then so few of us are Martin Luther Kings. "Maggie sucks! Maggie sucks!" they chanted.
Because, after all, they are just American kids.
From the podium I spoke again. "We will fight for marriage, and we will win!" Our crowd cheers.
And then I added, "We will not forget that those who disagree with us on this issue may agree on many other things. They are our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our friends, our family members."
God bless America.