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    A cat that catches mice

    Posted by Sean at 12:03, February 22nd, 2005

    I’ve started and jettisoned this post about a dozen times over the last week or so; actually, I think I’ve been stopping and starting it for the past year, but Michael may have given me an in to the point I want to address.

    I can understand why conservative Christian parents and elders would not want to bankroll or otherwise support a life they regard as sinful. The Bible says what it says, and I don’t think there’s any getting around that it doesn’t approve of sexual relationships outside marriage–that’s not what I mean. What I find bewildering is when children come out to their parents and are told that they’re inevitably headed for addiction, a string of abusive relationships or worse, and an early demise. I mean, the flat declaration that there’s nothing whatever affirmative or affectionate about homosexual relationships at all.

    You would think that sheer pragmatism would prevent parents from talking this way. After all, isn’t the idea to bring the child back to the fold and convince him to be chaste, or what have you? I doubt that I’m alone in that the major thing that made me feel ready to come out to my parents was the knowledge that I wasn’t just going to spend the rest of my life looking to score–who the hell is going to start a potential family feud to deliver that message?–I wanted a relationship, and whether they approved of its nature or not, I wanted them not to have to feel I wasn’t being taken care of. In that context, I think a lot of kids, hearing their parents decry homosexuality as inherently selfish and exploitative, conclude that they have no idea what they’re talking about and stop listening to them all together. I’m not trying to help the conservative Christians win back gays; I know my homosexuality isn’t going anywhere, and I think that’s the case for most of us.

    On the other hand, there are people who are plain screwed up in the head, and if some of the gay ones can’t handle their sexuality, using religion to give their lives a purpose beyond finding ever-more-imaginative ways to destroy themselves sounds to me like a good plan. When parents prophesy the worst for such children and push them away, it seems to me that there’s a pretty high risk they won’t figure that out before they reach the point of no return. You’d think it’d be obvious that staying warmly involved with the rest of their lives, perhaps avoiding discussions of homosexuality because they’re obviously not going to go anywhere, would be the better strategy.

    Your private life drama / Baby, leave me out

    Posted by Sean at 17:41, February 19th, 2005

    If the push for gay marriage does not express people’s longing for self-esteem-boosting through government policy, why is it that I read something like this at least once every few weeks?

    The second argument against civil unions as an intermediate step to marriage is that civil unions send the unacceptable message that gays are second-class citizens. Civil unions, says Stanback, are “a firm message that we are less deserving of dignity, respect, and rights than other citizens and taxpayers.” Marriage, by contrast, “is a universally respected cultural, legal, and social institution,” she notes. “Very, very few opposite-sex couples would trade their marriage for something called a civil union.”

    All of that is true and counsels against being satisfied, in the end, with anything short of marriage.

    You know, I’ve read this stuff very carefully. I’ve reread it. I’ve hung myself like a bat from the side of my bed and looked at it upside-down to make sure I’m seeing all the angles. I still come back to a point Eric Scheie made at Classical Values some months ago:

    Homosexuality is not heterosexuality. There are many differences between gay and straight relationships. The laws and social mores designed for the heterosexual scheme of things reflect these differences. I see no reason why homosexuals should feel the need to ape heterosexuals, and even less reason why they should be forced to do so. This is my biggest objection to same sex marriage.

    One of the things that frustrate me about this is the way gay activism constantly hoovers up the stalest, least wholesome feminist crumbs. For decades, political-action feminism argued that women and men are the same (there were certainly Mary Daly-type nutcases arguing to other academics that women were different in a superior way, but they didn’t affect social policy any more than Michael Warner does), and that anyone who defended social and legal distinctions of any kind between them was a tool of the Evil Dominant Culture. You may have noticed that none of this changed the fact that women have children and men do not, that we have different hormonal systems and biological strengths and weaknesses.

    I’m talking about general patterns, obviously–only a troglodyte wants to go back to the days when a woman with a bent for theoretical physics rather than mothering was coerced into choosing an unsuitable vocation just to make everyone else happy. Parenthood is the single most important job in civilization; but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a parent to live a worthwhile life. We wouldn’t be a civilization without creating and maintaining lots of systems and artifacts that are quite unnatural, in the sense that they wouldn’t occur if we left the world to its own brute devices. The problem was that feminism didn’t stop at making the point that she should be allowed to choose or to strike such balances as were feasible. It said that society should make the choice painless and that women who left the lab for the nursery were thereby expressing lack of self-respect.

    So let’s see…what’s gay activism up to right about now? Society should make gay relationships eligible for marriage so we know we’re respected, and if you supported President Bush for reelection or you don’t support gay marriage, you’re not self-respecting.

    [Gets self another Scotch so he can bear to continue. Okay. Back. Mmmm…peat.]

    The thing is–or one thing is–these arguments about respect always end up arriving at assertions that we love our partners, we take care of our partners, and we’re not all promiscuous. These are all good things to affirm. But when you use them as underpinnings for social policy (illustrated by Andrew Sullivan’s moist-eyed NYT article “Integration day” with statements such as “Gay couples will be married in Massachusetts � their love and commitment and responsibility fully cherished for the first time by the society they belong to”), it seems to me that you’re essentially saying, “Approve of my sex life, please.” Can’t imagine why that would fail to convince anyone that we’re not deserving of dignity.

    After all, if it’s “love and commitment” we’re worried about, why shouldn’t two friends (we all have friends we adore to pieces and would take a bullet for) who’ve decided to form a household, because neither has plans to marry and they’re content with each other, be able to take responsibility for each other that includes health insurance and hospital visitation? Or be able to have one vouch for the other’s application for permanent residency as a non-citizen? Okay, that second one would need careful consideration, but I don’t think it’s risible on its face.

    When I read articles by gays built around gloopy declarations of how much they love their partners, designed to show our worthiness for marriage, I find it frankly humiliating. Such writing probably does sometimes convince a few straight people that we actually do fall in love and care for each other. I think it also serves an important function in letting gays who are in the very fragile first stages of coming out know that there’s something worth shooting for beyond easily-obtainable sex and drug kicks. Where I draw the line–where I cannot imagine not drawing the line–is at some point before we start talking about the power of government to confer dignity.

    Maybe there really is a new andrewsullivan.com

    Posted by Sean at 03:32, February 16th, 2005

    Speaking of Jonathan Rauch, he’s started a website, linked to by IGF. Cool (even if the design does give me distracting cravings for the Neapolitan ice cream of my childhood). The links to his articles appear to pull together what you’d get from looking him up on IGF and Reason , which is a good thing. His book on gay marriage is disappointing, but not much of his other writing is. I’ve been a fan since Kindly Inquisitors .

    And he doesn’t know what a trackback is, which gives me comfort. I thought I was just a moron, but maybe it’s a fag thing. (Homos who always knew what trackbacks were because they helped invent them, or whatever, will kindly refrain from disillusioning me.)

    Everything she wants

    Posted by Sean at 22:30, February 15th, 2005

    Right Side of the Rainbow says everything I’ve ever wanted to say about defenses of traditional marriage against gays here. If I read his tone correctly, he’s dead serious but also being arch. I particularly like this point:

    Strip marriage of the rules that make it unappealing to gay men but keep all the nice perks that come with it — what, you think we don’t want our partners to have health insurance? — and you get the inevitable. You get a political campaign driven by middle class gay men, possessed as all middle class Americans are of a suffocating sense of entitlement, that will not relent until it succeeds.

    People talk about gay activists as if their sense of entitlement were some kind of evidence of special gay selfishness. But entitlements are the way modern civic life works–remember Jonathan Rauch’s chapters on lobbyists in Demosclerosis? I’m happy to deplore this, and to join in any principled objection to the excesses of leftist gay advocacy. It’s a target-rich environment, to be sure; however, I get very uneasy when it’s treated as some sort of freakish aberration in American politics, rather than the wack-job end of a continuum that runs all the way through it.

    Added on 17 February: Eric at Classical Values has mentioned common-law marriage in connection to gays, and I was sure that, somewhere, he’d pointed out that some gay-marriage advocates might not be so hot on the prospect of being considered a de facto married couple after cohabiting for seven years. Can’t seem to find the post I’m thinking of, but the point was a good one.

    Oh, and one more thing: childrearing is the single most important thing most people do in life, and the amount of sacrifice it requires is considerable. The view one hears nowadays that childrearing = selflessness and altruism, however, is coarse and misleading. Everywhere outside the developed world, people recognize very matter-of-factly that they’re having children not just to let happy new life loose in the world but to provide work for the household, including elder care when the parents themselves are old and incapacitated.

    The same mechanism operates here in the First World, of course; it’s just that our money economy means that people are less likely to need their children’s financial support and that the literal care they need can come from other people’s children in the form of strong, young nurses and deliverymen. The investment of energy in child-rearing feels obvious and real. The payback from the pool of workers who keep the economy going feels diffuse and is easy to gloss over (in that one often hears people talk about parenting as an investment in the future, as if the effort went in a single altruistic direction only).

    One must also consider that, in a world in which many of us don’t do physical labor, and those who do are rarely involved in the farming of life’s essentials, sex and the production of children is one of the few experiences left that serve primal, animal urges–which civilization teaches us to subsume but doesn’t actually banish.

    I am not arguing here that parenthood is on balance a selfish project. What I do think is that it paints a false picture to posit child-bearing straightness in an unqualified way as saintly and self-abnegating, which I think is the effect (however unintended) of quite a bit of the current discourse on marriage and parenting.

    Digging for the blue or the green / Constant in opal, ultramarine

    Posted by Sean at 01:21, February 10th, 2005

    Michael Demmons has decided to tell us what he really thinks about gay marriage:

    It�s not like being polite is going to make some backward a**hole change his mind. So why should I try? People tell us to stop calling people bigots and homophobic because they don�t want us speaking the truth. They think �baby steps.� Well, sorry folks. We�ve been taking baby steps since the 60�s and long before.

    Why should you be polite to people who are determined to behave horribly? Well, for one thing, there’s the old-fashioned injunction against sinking to their level. Sometimes taking the high road convinces a**holes to act more civilized, but even when it doesn’t, it has its benefits. For one thing, non-a**holes are often listening to these exchanges, and it’s not a good idea to turn them off. For another, there’s no faster way to turn yourself bitter than to get involved in games of combat-vituperation.

    Besides, not everyone who has “a different opinion on the matter” is anti-gay. I hate to sound like a broken record, but our interests are not helped when strategy is conceived in hippy-dippy terms like “Marriage is love.” Give me a break. I care whether my boyfriend recognizes my love for him. I care whether my parents do. I care whether my friends do.

    I don’t care whether the state does, which is one of the reasons I have such a hard time figuring out what “equality” gay marriage advocates are looking for. Power of attorney and transfer of benefits, I get. The ability to get residency for a partner who’s a foreign national is obviously something I’m deeply interested in. I just grow very suspicious at the way arguments for gay marriage veer quickly into the territory of what would make us happy or unhappy. We cannot fall into the trap of offering the government that kind of power if we want our relationships to be integrated into society in a way that’s best for everyone, and if we want to put men and women who come out in the future in the best position to live happy and productive lives. If we do, we will lose, and so will they. I would be more than…well, happy…to see gay advocacy proceed in strides larger than baby steps if I thought the foundations of its arguments were more solid. As it is, we’re still in the middle of debates over first principles, such as what constitutes a “right” and what makes someone a “second-class citizen.” In that context, I don’t think you need to be a patsy in order to espouse caution and slow, deep-rooted, organic change.


    Posted by Sean at 09:31, February 5th, 2005

    For possibly the first time in my entire life, I have risen at 8:30 on a Sunday morning to make myself a proper breakfast of eggs, toast, corned beef (the can didn’t have a key attached; some improvising with pliers and two nails was called for), juice, and tea. This is not a move toward self-improvement on my part, heaven forfend; I just have to go into the office today.

    Since I’ve been bustling around the kitchen to Outlandos d’Amour , I figure this is a good time to note the recent New York same-sex marriage ruling. Michael has his thoughts and a link to the PDF file of the original decision. The gay marriage debate merry-go-round started to bore me long ago, not because the issues aren’t important but because participants have a tendency to talk past each other repetitiously and VERY LOUDLY about small points without first finding common ground on the basics.

    I’m happy that our relationships have support from a lot of straight people, though I disagree that this is the way to channel it. On the other hand, however sincerely people may idealize marriage as sacred, it’s hard to fault those who argue that it’s evolved into essentially a loving relationship between two people who happen to want to be in it at the time. That is the way it’s actually been practiced for the last few decades, after all. (Blech, and speaking of Baby Boomer solipsism and self-indulgence, we’ve arrived at “Born in the 50’s”…no, not me, do it to Julia! JULIA!…where’s that remote?) Perhaps if people who object to gay marriage were willing to work as publicly and strenuously to reform divorce and custody laws, it would be harder to dismiss them as just prejudiced against queers.

    Kiss me on the bus

    Posted by Sean at 21:09, January 25th, 2005

    I like John Corvino’s latest article posted to IGF, but, then, I like his writing in general. I could have done without the Rosa Parks analogy, which he crashes through the guardrail and follows in flames as it rolls down the ravine (just to be gallant and cover his bad conceit-making with my own). His priorities are in the right place, though, and I join him in wondering how other people can possibly fail to see this stuff:

    Is that name difference silly? Yes, it’s silly � maybe even insulting. But when health benefits are denied to committed same-sex couples, when a person can’t get bereavement leave upon the death of her same-sex partner; when loving couples are split apart because one partner is a foreigner and can’t get citizenship, that’s far worse than silly or insulting � it’s downright cruel. I contend that we have a fighting chance at ending such cruelty, and that once we do so we’ll have an even better chance at ending the silly name-difference (again, see Scandinavia).

    I still don’t agree that attaining marriage under that name must, must, must be the goal. Even if we accept that legal and social circumstances are unequal now, it’s possible that opening marriage to gays is not the solution in the best interest of the larger society (including us gays). If the child-rearing function really is central to marriage, perhaps it needs to be reemphasized through stiffened divorce laws and greater penalties for parents who make spurious accusations at each other in custody battles, for example.

    The interference in individuals’ ability to make contracts that dictate the disposal of their possessions and persons if they’re incapacitated isn’t even a given everywhere; as Corvino says, we need to start there. Forget even the part about “recognition of our relationships” in the general sense, or at least, hold it in abeyance. Accusations like the one in the hate mail with which Corvino opens his article can only come from people who don’t see the current social and political climate for what it really is, a phenomenon that may be partially explained by their tendency to reach for invective when they should be assessing and countering arguments.

    Along those lines, I’m sorry to see that Maggie Gallagher is the latest columnist who took pay by the Bush administration to plug programs and is only now disclosing it. Gallagher is not my favorite person, as you might imagine. She has always struck me as principled, though, and I’ve cringed whenever I’ve seen someone from my team decide that the way to provide a witty and substantive refutation of one of her pieces is to call her a bitch. What she’s done isn’t an ethical infraction of epic proportions, but it doesn’t speak well of her–how does one forget about a contract for two grand, exactly? And even if her support for the program was there for the asking, anyway, is it impossible to believe that she might have been inclined not to publicize such flaws as it might have had once she and the government had an understanding?

    What this does do is give people who could learn from Gallagher’s arguments a new, easy reason to dismiss her as a bankrupt thinker. That’s not exactly what we need on either side at the moment. (The Gallagher story was foreshadowed by Instapundit and Drudge.)

    Growing up in public

    Posted by Sean at 10:01, January 12th, 2005

    Gay Orbit notes that GayPatriot appears to have cast the apple of discord in our midst with the varying opinions of its proprietors about whether it’s the new Daily Dish. Others are already doing all the wrangling necessary, so I will confine myself to two points I don’t think are being given sufficient attention:

    First, yes, Andrew Sullivan has turned into a wet noodle. It’s painful to see, and his opining now frequently ranges from the silly to the outrageous. Let’s remember something, though, shall we? A decade ago, he was using his print and television presence to show a rare face of gentlemanly, reasonable gayness. The gay marriage argument has moved beyond his early books, but back then, the opposition really did tend to confine itself to things like, “Gays have sex, not love.” At the level to which the debate had progressed, Sullivan was one of the few major figures who made rational arguments that gays were responsible enough to be fully included in society.

    This past year or so has been a test of his principles, and he’s flunked so far. There’s always hope that he’ll get it together, but he completely deserves the drubbing many of his current positions are taking. That doesn’t change the fact that he made a lasting contribution to gay advocacy; it’s unseemly to be slagging him off as if he were a terminally-empty Richard Goldstein type who’d recently found a way, somehow, to become even more tiresome. Show some respect.

    Second, Gay Patriot wants attention, and I think it’s wonderful that he and his thoughtful collaborator are getting it. I don’t like the idea that for eternity there will be a single Andrew Sullivan Chair in Non-Commie Homosexuality that has to be filled, with every other gay who opens his mouth considered leftist until proven innocent; but there’s nothing wrong with having one commentator or blog that’s the most prominent exponent of right-leaning gay thought.

    And yet…I think GP mentioned once that he works in marketing, and, well, I believe him. I mean that in both good and bad ways. GP and GPW are good at soundbites, and soundbites are useful in blogging. They get quoted, and they’re attached to a site called GayPatriot, and that does good, necessary work in demonstrating that not gays are not all lockstep leftists who look down on America.

    At the same time, I worry. I worry because the guys at GayPatriot don’t seem to recognize that you can’t stop at marketing. At times, they do make solid, worked-out arguments; but for the most part, when one of their political posts sounds good, it sounds good because you’re filling in the gaps between catchy pronouncements with actual facts or logical constructions you’ve read elsewhere. When GP, especially, needs to make a case that has no evidence to corroborate his–there’s the hilarious story of the bottle thrown at his car and the more serious allegation that LCR’s Chris Barron may have had divided loyalties up to very late in the election year–he doesn’t show much inclination to ascertain and then question his own assumptions in order to strengthen his story. (I suppose it’s possible that each of these posts was followed up with more hard evidence, but I read GayPatriot regularly and am pretty sure I’d have remembered; they both made me practically fall off my chair at the time.)

    The guys at GayPatriot also don’t seem to understand that, while they deserve kudos for publicizing their unpopular political opinions, their mindset about people is stereotypical urban-gay, and not in the good way. Here’s GP demonstrating that he’s more all-American than Andrew Sullivan:

    Andrew’s main problem is that he, along with his fellow Clinton Democrats, do not understand Red State (and the majority of) America. He admits he doesn’t like or “get” country music, for example. Funny, my iPod continously brings up Kenny Chesney on random rotation.

    I know people who grew up in rural Kentucky that can’t stand country music; there are also New York music critics who can go off for days about how wonderful George Jones and Loretta Lynn are. But neither of those is really the point–the point is that GP is fixated on the artifacts rather than the attitude. Do you use your music to make a statement about yourself, or do you figure that people’s integrity is pretty much unrelated to whether they have Cher or Reba in the CD player? And, if we’re going to use the term, which mental framework is more “Red State”? (I admit I laughed at the hockey joke, though.)

    There are a lot of nice people in the blogosphere who are looking for reasons not to think uncharitably about gays and who are very receptive to GayPatriot’s message, which is great. Some of them have day jobs as journalists and could get the site real exposure, which is also great. For now. But the more attention they get, the more likely it becomes that they will run into skeptical people who hold you accountable for everything you say and expect finely-woven arguments. If they don’t start figuring out how to provide them, they’ll make themselves and the rest of us look bad.


    Posted by Sean at 16:58, January 9th, 2005

    I don’t agree with Michael about marriage policy, but I think he’s dead right about this:

    [We’re part of everyday life.] And it�s our job as gay people to let people know we exist, that we live and work with them, and that we�re family members. You don�t do yourself or anyone else any good when you cry �unfair� from your closet.

    You either stay closeted or get to complain that people aren’t doing enough to make your gay life easier, but not both. It’s perfectly honorable to believe that your sexual orientation is a private matter and live by it. You might (in fact, you almost inevitably would) think gay activists are idiots, but you wouldn’t bitch that society is standing in your way. I’m also not referring to what people do on-line–there are lots of reasons people don’t use their own names that have nothing to do with embarrassment at being known as gay.

    What I mean are the types like this guy a few months ago–I thought I’d drop my drink right there–who thought that he’d have an easier time coming out to his parents if gay marriage were legal, ’cause, see, then he could go with his new spouse and simultaneously come out and reassure his parents that he had someone to take care of him. He had obviously given this some thought and, in the manner of all thoroughly insane people, presented it in the even tones of one who knows he’s being perfectly rational. I’m afraid I myself may have reacted like a raving lunatic: “You think the folks are going to take it better if you present your entrance into what they consider a degradation of a sacred institution as a fait accompli? That that’s going to mitigate their anger at having been lied to for your entire adult life that work kept you too busy to socialize and you just hadn’t found the right girl?” The hardships involved in being gay make integrity more, not less, necessary.

    Not quite government’s end

    Posted by Sean at 12:01, December 27th, 2004

    I was disappointed by Jonathan Rauch’s book Gay Marriage , which I thought made uncharacteristically spotty arguments. (Uncharacteristically for him, I mean–not, more’s the pity, for gay marriage advocates.) Being a sensible person, he knows how to confront reality, though; and with his new op-ed, he ends the year much better than he began it. Well, you have to roll yours eyes and move quickly past the loan shark analogy near the beginning. Part of his main point is this:

    The consensus has shifted rapidly, meanwhile, toward civil unions. The 2004 exit polls showed 35% of voters supporting them (and another 25% for same-sex marriage). Particularly after the Nov. 2 debacle, civil unions look to many gay-rights advocates like the more attainable goal. It is not lost on them that Vermont’s civil-unions law and California’s partnership program have proved surprisingly uncontroversial. For their part, social conservatives increasingly, if grudgingly, accept civil unions as deflecting what they regard as an attack on marriage. John Kerry endorsed civil unions, and in October Mr. Bush accepted them, saying, “I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do.”

    This year may be remembered as the time when civil unions established themselves as the compromise of choice. For an indicator, watch whether there is an outcry if state courts narrow the scope of the new amendments to allow civil unions and other partner programs. My guess is that few people will fuss.

    It’s been put to me that even civil unions wouldn’t be possible if activists hadn’t first gone the whole way and demanded “marriage rights” and then fallen back to what would then look like a more reasonable position. Maybe. It’s not possible to know. I myself think the collateral damage, as it were, has to be factored in: the fixing in the minds of Americans of an image of gay public figures as, yet again, screechy single-issue activists who think of nothing but themselves. It’s not fair to lay an equal share of the blame on moderate thinkers such as Rauch, but neither is it unfair to acknowledge that his influence was not always as salutary as it might have been. He’s still one of the best advocates we have, especially with Andrew Sullivan still off in Cloud-Cuckoo Land, and it’s a holiday treat (no one’s going to jump down my throat for not explicitly calling it “Christmas” now that it’s 28 December, yeah?) to see him coming around.

    (Via IGF)