Amidst all the talk of the bailout and the apparently imminent recession, issues related to same-sex relationships have taken a back seat. As I’ve stated before, this is actually a very good thing. In the Vice Presidential debate last week, gay-related issues got a whopping one question amid the winks and grins.

In that debate, Moderator Gwen Ifill asked Senator Biden if he supported “as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples.” His answer was a resounding, “absolutely.” He further said that under an Obama administration, there would be no distinction between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. When pressed on whether he supported gay marriage, he said no.

Palin’s response was, well, pathetic. It was the same kind of yammering she gave Katie Couric on the topic only a day before that she has “dear friends” who were gay and that she would “tolerate” and “be tolerant” of same-sex couples. Never mind the fact that she’s said before that she believes that sexual orientation is a choice that can be “prayed away.”

Let me say this clearly. I don’t care how much of a pit bull she thinks she is. Sarah, you and your “tolerance” can bite me. We don’t need “tolerance.” We don’t even need assurances that “contracts can be signed.” What we really need is protection — from people just like you.

Tolerance indeed. The last thing we need is a vice president who doesn’t even have the guts to even talk clearly about same-sex couples. She’s no barracuda. More like a betta. That’s a teensy little fish that’s all frills and fight, and wouldn’t even be a proper snack for a cat.

But, I digress.

This only illustrates the simple reality – both parties are the same on paper. Democrats are often long on promises, but short on delivery. Bill Clinton’s promise to allow gays to serve in the military collapsed into the single worst policy in US military history: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This would allow gays to serve as long as they don’t act gay or disclose their sexual orientation.

Obama has promised to rescind the policy and let gays serve. McCain promised to take advice from his generals (most of whom are as homophobic as their grunts). But would either actually sign any law that would grant gays to serve their country with honor? Well, I’m not going to hold my breath.

As I’ve said before, the big issue in 2004 and 2006 was gay marriage. States all around the country have clamored to pass anti-gay marriage amendments because they all know what Biden said: that the constitution allows for same-sex marriage. This is why bigoted reich-wing groups like the American Family Association are so adamant to get these atrocities passed – not because they’re afraid of “activist judges,” but because they know the Constitution (darn that pesky fourteenth amendment!) guarantees equal protection under the law. So their only hope is to write discrimination into a document that is at its core — liberty.

Many of my fellow gay activists are angry that none of the Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates openly supports gay marriage. Truthfully, I’m okay with this. Because of this, it actually takes the candy of anti-gay bigotry out of the mouths of the already-sugar high right wing nuts who are salivating to have their pet issue back on the lips and ballots of the American people. Too bad. Maybe they’ll boycott themselves one day.

In fact, two of the three states that have constitutional amendments on the ballot, Florida and California, are likely to reject those amendments. The third, Arizona, already has rejected it once. It’s not the driving issue of the day. Thank God.

Let me say this, though. The United States of America, as a whole, is not ready for gay marriage. This isn’t an issue that’s going to go away overnight, and it’s not going to be solved with a simple presidential proclamation. As time goes on, we’ll see more and more states pass laws allowing for civil unions and domestic partnerships. If we’re EVER to see gay marriage in all 50 states, then it will be through education, understanding, and something far more than tolerance: patience. Americans are slow to change, and we’re slow to look beyond ourselves. But that’s what it’s going to take.

If we’re ever to see marriage, we’ve got to have a full set of protections in place first. Why the hell are we blathering about marriage, when in many states we don’t even have basic protections in housing and employment? What good is it to be able to marry when there aren’t even hate-crime laws in place across most of the country — including in Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard was killed ten years ago? There’s not even a hate crime law in place at the federal level!

Seriously, folks – let’s not get into the idea that we have to have this pie in the sky when we don’t even have the key ingredients needed for that pie? When even Alaska has a meager domestic partnership policy in place – mandated by its supreme court, it’s clear that we have a long way to go. That policy is still in flux, and several attempts have been made to nullify the court’s ruling. As a my friend Michael Rowe says, Quel surprise! “Tolerance,” indeed.

So we only got one question in the Veep debate. And it was about gay marriage. The two candidates even agreed on it. “Okay, let’s move on,” Ifill said. What an excellent idea.