Hell-Bent: Why Gay Marriage Was Inevitable
Like it or not, gay marriage is here to stay. The Supreme Court ruling matters little. That was the case well before oral arguments were heard, and not for legal reasons. Yes, the fact that some states had already recognized it played a part, but the real reason gay marriage is now a permanent part of the American landscape is moral.
Most Americans never gave gay marriage a thought until the Supreme Court of Hawaii set the wheels in motion back in 1993, which led three years later to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Bill Clinton confidently signed DOMA, remarking more than once that his administration had never, ever supported gay marriage. Before the subversive phrase “marriage equality” came into common parlance, Clinton knew that publicly supporting such a notion would be political suicide.
Barack Obama knew that, too, when he sat on the stage at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church during his first presidential campaign. Responding to the megachurch pastor’s question, Obama said, “I believe that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. Now for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. You know, God’s in the mix.” Civil unions, he insisted, are more than enough to accommodate gays: Homosexual couples need them so they can visit each other in the hospital. But again, he added, “I am not someone who promotes same-sex marriage.” Somehow, long ago in 2008, Obama was able to utter this hate speech and still manage to get elected.
Today, more and more Republican politicians and conservative pundits are pledging their support for “marriage equality.”
Why did the tide turn so quickly? The answer lies in the way Americans relate to homosexuality in particular, and sexuality in general.
Most Americans are confident that, pace those ignorant fundamentalists, no one would ever choose to be gay. The notion that anyone would choose the “gay lifestyle” (now considered a homophobic term) is absurd, because, well, think of all of the persecution homosexuals endure!
The moral argument is simple: Homosexuals have no choice in the matter of their same-sex attraction—remember, they are homosexuals—and so they cannot be denied any civil right enjoyed by heterosexuals, who also did not choose to be what they are. Heterosexuals have a right to enjoy erotic pleasures with whomever they choose (“love”), as well as the right to select a mate, stay committed to that mate for as long as they choose (“marriage”), and end that commitment whenever they choose (“divorce”). And again, these are rights that heterosexuals possess by virtue of being heterosexuals.
To say that homosexuals do not by nature possess the same rights as heterosexuals is to discriminate, which is to hate, which we know to be wrong. Unconditional acceptance is right.
Because what is is what’s right. You are a heterosexual man who wants to love women and therefore does love women. He is a homosexual who wants to love men and therefore does likewise.
There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.
All you need is love. . . . Love is all you need.
And so the argument plays itself out over and over again in the media, whenever some sort of gay news breaks. This past spring, the 24-hour news cycle had a field day when a mediocre NBA player, Jason Collins, “came out” on the cover and in the pages of Sports Illustrated. The act was hailed by nearly all of the elite class as courageous, and Collins was deemed the next Jackie Robinson.
Of course, the story itself could only last for so long, and besides, the real attention grabbers are the little exposés of those who didn’t react with the amount of exuberance deemed proper for such a momentous occasion. For example, all-pro Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs was crucified in the pages of the Chicago Tribune and ridiculed in blogs and on radio because, when asked on Twitter to share his thoughts on Collins, his official response was, “How about those Bulls!”
“As a black man,” screamed one Chicago sports-radio jock, “he should know better! You can’t help but be what you were born to be!”
Americans who are convinced that homosexuals are “born that way” are also confident that one day science will confirm it. Every so often, we read the latest breaking news or see it on television—some peer-reviewed journal has announced that an incontrovertible discovery has been made that solves the mystery of why some people are born gay.
These breakthroughs tend to begin with a bang, but end with a whimper.
In 1993, scientific researcher and self-identified homosexual Dean Hamer claimed he had found the gay gene, or rather a gay genetic marker, on the X chromosome at the Xq28 marker. Subsequent studies ruled that marker out. Next, as Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, put it in a critical article published in the New York Review of Books, we had “the much publicized spectacle—Time magazine has taken up the story in a dramatic feature entitled ‘Search for a Gay Gene’—of homosexuality’s origins being revealed in the lowly fruit fly, Drosophila.” After the parade, however, most scientists were loath to make any serious connection between male fruit flies “touching male partners with forelegs” and same-sex attraction in humans. There have been numerous other studies, of course, but today the unfruitful search for a gay gene has yielded to the burgeoning science of epigenetics, which studies not the genes themselves, but sex-specific “epi-marks” that regulate the transmission of genes. Recently, Science Daily reported that an ongoing study by the federally funded Working Group on Intragenomic Conflict shows “that ‘sexually antagonistic’ epi-marks, which normally protect parents from natural variation in sex hormone levels during fetal development, sometimes carry over across generations and cause homosexuality in opposite-sex offspring.”
Thus, for those more educated pundits who defend the rights of homosexuals who cannot help but be who they are because they are born that way, the term du jour is epigenetics.
You know who doesn’t like any of this? Gay activists.
In a letter to the editor responding to the above-mentioned article in the New York Review of Books, homosexual historian and activist Jonathan Ned Katz took Richard Horton, Dean Hamer, and other gay-genetics-friendly researchers to task:
I honestly don’t understand how biology can play any role in determining all the different, discontinuous forms of human relationship revealed by historians: “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” and “bisexual,” “lipstick lesbian” and “old butch,” “ancient Greek pederasty,” “Victorian true love,” “romantic friendship,” “early-colonial sodomy,” and the Native American “berdache” (so-called by the French colonizers).
I don’t see how biology can determine the social, historical, and political use of sexual preference to create two dominant and subordinate classes, “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals.”
What Katz and many other gay activists deny, then, is both the ability of science to identify a specifically gay gene or biological marker and the very existence of homosexuals and heterosexuals overall. And their reasoning is clear: If science could locate the biologically determinative factor that “causes” homosexuality or “makes homosexuals,” that factor would be a mutation, a deviation from the biological norm, a scientific basis for classifying those who experience same-sex attraction as a “subordinate class.”
Thus, when gay activists such as Katz insist that they didn’t “choose to be gay,” they are not claiming that “sexual preference” is biologically determined. Instead, they are declaring that they eschew all categories that would constrain their choice of sexual partners. They are denouncing the very notion that sexual deviancy exists at all (apart from a purely conventional age of consent). They are rejecting the notion that “heterosexuality” is the norm, because for them there categorically cannot be a sexual norm.
And this is why an increasing number of gay activists are going on record as opposing gay marriage.
In an article in Salon, queer activist Laurie Essig, a professor of sociology at Middlebury College, bemoans the fact that “marriage equality” has become today’s liberal cause célèbre: “What annoys me is that no one, not even queers, can imagine anything other than marriage as a model for organizing our desires.” For Essig, the push for gay marriage is evidence of the weakness of some same-sex-attracted individuals who foolishly long to mimic the restrictive and domineering institutions put in place by white Christian males: “In the past, we queers have had to beg, cheat, steal and lie in order to create our families. But it’s exactly this lack of state and societal recognition that gave us the freedom to organize our lives according to desire rather than convention.”
Suffice it to say that Katz and Essig are not alone, as evidenced by such groups as Gays Against Gay Marriage, Homovox (France), and many others.
This perspective becomes even more interesting when we consider that, in the words of The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta, “probably less than 2 percent” of Americans identify themselves as homosexual. The title attached to Franke-Ruta’s piece, “Americans Have No Idea How Few Gay People There Are,” elucidates the findings of a ongoing study by Gallup, which discloses that, based on 2011 data, “U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.”
Of course, The Atlantic’s goal is to mollify those homophobic holdouts who are ignorantly afraid that, given the current political climate and the assumed massive numbers of homosexuals everywhere, there will soon be round-the-clock gay weddings on every street corner. What’s more interesting, however, is the disparity itself, the gap between opinion and reality. Why do most Americans (“social conservatives,” too, according to Gallup’s data) assume that one fifth to one quarter of Americans are homosexual?
And for that matter, if only two percent or less of Americans are self-identified homosexuals, and a fair number of them see same-sex marriage as a threat to their sexual freedom, why has same-sex marriage triumphed politically and culturally?
Perhaps we should ask why it took so long. Living as we are in the moribund late phase of what Harold O.J. Brown (and his mentor, Pitirim Sorokin) called a “sensate culture,” we should not be surprised by any of this. Long gone is the ideational culture that built the West, in which Christianity’s foundation of divinely revealed biblical truth shaped society, restraining man’s darker impulses. Since at least the Enlightenment, European civilization has been hell-bent on throwing off the shackles of the Christian Faith, consigning it to an ever-shrinking private sphere of life. In its place, the sensate culture demands that truth be drawn only from the immediate experiences of our physical faculties. One by one, the remnants of public morality grounded in revealed truth are questioned, jettisoned, then put on display for public ridicule. And as the sensate culture reaches its late and dying phase, virtually unguided by any ideational truth, all that remains is pleasure.
The inauguration of this “late phase” matches up with Katz’s accounting of America’s transition from a “morality of production” to a “morality of pleasure,” which he details in his 1990 book The Invention of Heterosexuality. In it, the gay activist notes that the very terms homosexual and heterosexual did not come into use in the United States until the tail-end of the 19th century, round about the time that the population began to shift from the country to the city, mechanization and technology began to boom, and the human body began to be seen as less an instrument fit for work and production and more of a vehicle of consumption and pleasure. With Christianity and Victorian societal mores on the wane, physicians began to speak clinically about normative (“heterosexual”) versus deviant (“homosexual”) sexual behavior, appealing to science to save the appearances of a bygone social order.
Coincidentally, I would add, this transition marks the beginning of American society’s acceptance of contraception. But the decades-long public debate over its use (at first, of course, permissible only within the confines of marriage) and its first churchly blessing at Lambeth (1930) were not cause but symptom of the deterioration of society, the dimming of the light of a sensate culture in which pleasure is always the goal because pleasure is always the good.
In this materialist milieu, the marriage vow of love is not seen as a sacrificial commitment to the good of another. Love then degrades into mere acceptance of the other, which amounts to little more than a refusal to deny the other whatever pleases him—coupled with a reciprocal demand for acceptance. And that which pleases is not limited to sex or the fulfillment of sexual attraction.
In an episode of AMC’s often insightful series Mad Men, a show about the advertising culture of the 1960’s, creative director Don Draper is faced with the fact that government-sponsored studies have challenged his ads’ claim that Lucky Strike cigarettes are safe and healthy. Rather than challenge those studies publicly (thus drawing attention to the cigarette’s association with cancer and death), he convinces the tobacco company that all they need to do is change the subject. He thus sells the makers of Lucky Strikes on an ad campaign that says simply, “It’s toasted.” His reasoning?
Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams, with reassurance, that whatever you are doing is OK. You are OK.
This is why gay marriage was inevitable. In a moribund sensate culture, pleasure may come in a variety of forms—overeating, shopping, even deviant sexual behavior; or it may come in the form of simple acceptance. The legal and societal recognition of “same-sex marriage”—something that, as Christians know, simply does not exist—is little more than a declaration of acceptance by “heterosexuals” of “homosexuals.”
That is the essence of President Obama’s own flip-flop on gay marriage. “You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples,” the President said, referring to his adolescent daughters. “There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha—it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently.”
To treat a same-sex couple differently would be hateful, a sin against fairness, a refusal to recognize, accept, and embrace publicly something that pleases them.
A tiny portion of the population has successfully overthrown an institution that has existed since the Creation of the world. How? In 1993, two same-sex couples in Hawaii simply wanted to be married, and we as a society have no publicly recognized basis for saying no. But more to the point, like the very neat categories of hetero- and homosexual, gay marriage “screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK.” Gay marriage screams acceptance to the vast majority of Americans who do not personally experience same-sex attraction, but who want public reassurance that whatever they want to do—whether to consume deviant pornography, or trade in their wives over irreconcilable differences, or live in deliberately childless marriages and accumulate toys—is OK. You are what you are because that’s how you were born. And any challenge or restraint on what you want to do, on what pleases you, cannot be tolerated. Fair is fair.
Conservative Christians have failed to stop the juggernaut of gay marriage because we have embraced the values of the sensate culture. American society is not ruled and normed by Scripture, and so any appeal to it (“I will make him an help meet for him”) in defense of “traditional marriage” appears as nothing more than special pleading, an appeal to what pleases us. Christians who follow the “pleasure ethic,” to borrow from Katz, who divorce at a higher rate than the unbelieving world, who view marriage chiefly as a means of self-gratification and not an opportunity for service and sacrifice are in no position to speak a prophetic word to society. Our God is no longer the Holy One Who loves creatures that are in open rebellion against Him and takes upon Himself our just punishment, but a god who “loves us and accepts us just as we are,” a judge who never judges. Our sermons are therapeutic, and even “the best lack all conviction.” Thus saith the Lord—although let us preface by saying that we love and accept everyone, regardless of his or her chosen lifestyle . . .
If “marriage equality” is the law of the land, then technically, metaphysically, the thing that the state offers by way of contract is not marriage in any real sense. Government-mandated “marriage equality” turns real marriage into a mere civil union.
Aaron D. Wolf is Chronicles’ associate editor.
This article first appeared in the July 2013 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Click here to subscribe.