Given the lack of interest in Congress in protecting children from guns, it was nice to hear a grown-up in Washington speak on behalf of kids, any kids — in this case, the nearly 40,000 kids who live with same-sex parents in California.
"They want their parents to have full recognition and full status," Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said during Tuesday's hearing on Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned gay marriage in California. "The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?"
Those children could suffer "immediate legal injury" because of the ban on same-sex marriage, Kennedy said, offering a reason for his colleagues to act now to end the statutory discrimination that keeps gays and lesbians in California and most other states from legal marriage and its benefits.
Tuesday's hearing might have exposed the court's reluctance to declare that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry, but at least Kennedy spoke up for the kids — those little people we say we care so much about.
What a perfectly grown-up approach to take.
I wish the same could be said for the U.S. Senate.
A little more than three months after one of the most horrible mass killing in the nation's history — the shooting of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut — there are fewer than 40 Senate votes for restoration of a federal ban on military-style assault weapons like the one Adam Lanza used inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Senators, including many Democrats, have been unmoved by the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Apparently, not even the testimony of parents of the murdered first-graders affected them.
So the package of firearms reforms that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote did not include the new ban on assault-style weapons proposed by California Sen. Diane Feinstein.
Though Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, promises to bring an assault weapons ban to a floor vote as an amendment to the gun bill, its chances of passage seem slim at best. Some have already declared it dead, along with the proposal to limit gun magazines to 10 rounds. At this point, it's not even clear that the provision for universal background checks of gun buyers will pass the Senate.
We get such weakened legislation despite multiple national polls showing a clear majority of Americans in support of restoring the assault weapons ban and in favor of background checks.
A Washington Post-ABC Poll showed 65 percent of Americans with school-age children being at least somewhat worried about a mass shooting in their communities.
And then there's all the day-to-day violence, the kind we've seen in Baltimore for decades. Some 30,000 Americans are killed every year with guns — a third of them by others, two-thirds in suicide.
Don't worry: I get the two-bit political realism of Congress — that too many of its members fear backlash from the gun-rights crowd. For years we've been hearing that Congress has no stomach for serious gun control.
But we were given this explanation countless times before Newtown.
It's as if nothing has changed in Washington.
We have a Congress still living in fear of the National Rifle Association, and a culture of zealous gun ownership that appears unmoved by the extension of mass killings into first-grade classrooms.
The way the gun enthusiasts have come streaming out of their man-caves to fight almost any kind of rational regulation of firearms — from the handgun licensing provision in Maryland to the proposed assault weapons ban in Washington — brings to mind "the adolescent society," a term used by the wise old poet Robert Bly to describe a transformation he saw in the nation, starting about 20 years ago.
In his 1996 book, "The Sibling Society," Bly described a country losing its stock of genuine grown-ups, becoming caught up in self-centered adolescent attitudes, and scornful of its children.
"When I first began to write this book," Bly said, "I found it hard to understand why a society run by adolescents should show so much disregard for children, who are, in the mass, worse off … than they were under Theodore Roosevelt or Warren Harding. And yet, in an actual family, adolescents do not pay very much attention to the little ones or the very old."
At least in Maryland, the state Senate approved a package of post-Newtown firearms regulations that includes a ban on assault-style weapons.
Of course, lobbied hard by gun enthusiasts, some members of the House of Delegates are now tinkering with that part of the legislation, apparently in the belief that we have not yet had enough carnage from assault-style rifles to warrant a ban on them. There are some who want to exempt the kind of weapons that made possible the deaths of so many children so fast in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The grown-ups in this state must not let that happen.