JOYS LARGE AND SMALL ABOUND IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- It's easy enough to find bad news across the world, not to speak of one's own neighborhood, but every once in a while the good news overwhelms the bad -- and this week seems to be one of those happy times.

Maybe it's because it's summer.

But one would have to be an old crab, indeed, not to be moved by two animal stories that amused our nation's capital this week.

First, there was the story of Rusty, the red panda who escaped (or something) from the wonderful National Zoological Park on Connecticut Avenue. If you have ever seen a cuter face than this guy's, you'll have to prove it to me. He has a smaller, sassier panda's face, but it's mostly white, and his coat is the reddish-brown of the famous "red-haired" Hollywood stars. Big ears. Size of a raccoon.

Since there are not many red pandas around anywhere, the zoo launched an immediate search that traveled as news all over the world. By the end of the first day on his own, Rusty was miraculously found by a curious tourist whose gaze just happened to turn upward. There, among the leaves and branches of a tree, was Rusty, cute as a button but with his tongue hanging out.

He was soon painlessly captured, given water and taken "home." It is authoritatively rumored that he expressed no inclination to repeat his adventure and, despite the fact that he was found in Adams Morgan, one of bohemia's best restaurant and bar areas in D.C., no bar bills have been presented to the zoo.

Then, on Wednesday, we heard on the news that a small black bear was roaming across the same Northwest area of Washington. A nice youngster bear! He, too, was captured and taken by the Humane Society to an area out in the country more suited to his appetites. By now, the city was even more delighted by these happy-ending animal capers.

Without denying that I have an acknowledged affinity, for animals, I come to the happy story that the National Institutes of Health announced a major step toward ending the use of chimpanzees for biomedical research. It calls for retiring 310 animals, leaving only 50 for possible continued research.

This decision provides real reason to give Americans additional faith in their country. While the Congress cannot pull itself together, we now see the results of the lobbying by animal rights groups that have for years worked to free the chimps from their research roles. There is now even a legally designated national chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, in Louisiana.

After all, said NIH director Dr. Francis S. Collins, "They are our closest relatives." No reliable indicator was provided as to how the chimps regarded this allegation.

Maybe it's because it's summer.

But the overwhelming joy on the part of so many, as expressed on the front pages of just about all the major newspapers, was the Supreme Court's effective vote allowing same-sex marriage. It was the highest court's first ruling on the subject and, as The Washington Post put it, "produced historic gains for gay rights."

Activists across the country were filled with almost hysterical happiness and, with many, relief. Indeed, many expressed relief that they could now really "come out," that they had been frightened all their lives by fear of personal violence against them (or more), that their families had disowned them and perhaps would love them again, or that now they would truly be "equals before the law."

All the court really did was to strike down a crucial part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of receiving federal benefits. But by making it possible for same-sex couples who are married under state law (13 states and the District now provide for such marriages) to gain such benefits, the court opened up areas seldom ever considered before.

Even though this is considered a conservative court, it acknowledged that the mainstream of American life has changed. Attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexual couples have become more and more inclusive and language over "gay culture" has been transformed. Finally it was reflected upward to the highest court in the land and made into new law.

Oh, it's just that "summertime" thing again!

Yes, very well, you'll say now, but what about all the other news of this week? What about the demonstrations and riots in Turkey and Brazil? Weren't these two of the "emerging" nations that were supposed to keep emerging? Weren't these two developing countries -- formal democracies, too -- that were just going to keep on developing?

Such questions point to what is new in these two attractive countries. The truth about both Turkey and Brazil is that they are becoming middle class, and it is that class which is demanding more. Which, in the end, should promise more effective government for everyone.

Sorry, but I have to go now. My summer flowers need watering.