In the beginning, soon after he had finished tasks with a higher priority, God created a man and a woman.

In many respects, the man and woman were similar; in some respects, they were not. Despite unisex modes of dress and grooming, the differences between men and women have remained obvious, and highly useful.

There is no indication that God made the sexes different because He loved one more than the other. Quite to the contrary, God appears to have blessed both sexes with His love and mercy in equal measure. He had specialized functions in mind for each. He loved them equally because they were both his children.

Men and women have always been separate but equal, an it is reasonable to assume that they will remain so. When hard pressed, even demagogic politicians will concede that point.

However, there is a good deal of confusion in some quarters as to how people can be equal if they are different, or how they can be different if they are equal. Even judges, legislators and other public officials have been blundering about in this semantic jungle of late. Small wonder that others are also confused.

In Saturday's Washington Post, staff writer Martin Weil wrote: "The annual and eagerly anticipated separate boys and girls softball tournaments at Montgomery County's Darnestown Elementary School were canceled yesterday in deference to an interpretation of federal law against sex discrimination."

Title 9 of the 1972 Federal Education Act was designed to correct sexual inequities of long standing. Like most attempts to legislate morality, it was difficult to write. Its meaning is not always clear. Its administration does not always result in public acclaim.

As far as I can ascertain, Title 9 does not forbid boys and girls to organize themselves into separate teams if they wish to, but that is a point some overlook after they have had a swig or two from the equality jug.

Also in Saturday's Post, staff writer George C. Wilson reported: "Army leaders have not yet learned how to cope with the growing number of women in their ranks." Traditional bars against fraternization between officers and enlisted men have been shattered by a new social phenomenon. Officers are fraternizing with enlisted women, and sometimes marrying them, which makes it very difficult for the Army to discourage even more fraternization.

The Army characterizes this as "a clear distraction and threat to expedient mission accomplishment." Yes, indeed.

We are trying to revise our laws and customs to give women the rights they deserve but were long denied: the right be equal before the law, the right to pursue a lifestyle of their own choosing, and the right to an equal sense of self-worth and status in the community. Unfortunately, we sometimes achieve these ends by pretending that males and females are interchangeable, that there is no difference between the two.

In a letter to the editor, Fred Langford of Arlington recently posed a simple question that ought to help some people find their way out of the semantic jungle.

Statistics show that women live longer than men, so some pension plans have required women to pay higher premiums to finance the greater benefits they receive. The Supreme Court struck that down. Men and women must be treated equally, the court said.

But Langford argued: "Statistics also show that men between the ages of 16 and 25 have more automobile accidents and therefore must pay higher insurance rates than women . . . Is it fair to ignore the statistics for one group of people while the other group is regulated by the statistics?"

To borrow President Carter's joke, fortunately I am not a lawyer and I am therefore untroubled by legalistic arguments.

Common sense tells me that blacks and whites can be equal before the law without being the same; Catholics and Protestants can be equal before the law without being cast in the same mold; men and women can be equal before the law without tortured reasoning that makes sexes indistinguishable, or one sex more equal than the other.

It is time to ask ourselves just what is it we've been trying to legislate.

Are we trying to enact laws that give women equal rights, or laws that deny the existence of two sexes?