“The average American watches over seven hours
of television daily. Those hours open up a gateway
into the private world of straights, through which
a Trojan Horse might be passed.”
—Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen,
“The Overhauling of Straight America” (1987)
If one had not already been convinced that the gay-rights movement in America had reached a watershed, then the events in Indiana in late March of this year must have been alarming for even the most skeptical. After being approved by a substantial majority in the Indiana legislature, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was signed into law on March 26 by Gov. Mike Pence. Modeled on the 1993 federal act of the same name, Indiana’s RFRA was intended to provide legal protection to those in danger of prosecution for refusing to engage in practices prejudicial to their religious beliefs, including Christian business owners and religious organizations unwilling to provide services that could be seen as an endorsement of homosexual marriage or adoption by homosexual couples, etc. Virtually overnight, dozens of activist groups—including the Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal—descended with Hitchcockian fury upon the state, drawing all the major media outlets in their wake. Opponents contended that the act was designed to provide a cover whereby Indiana might deny full civil rights to homosexuals, and were particularly incensed by its sweeping language, which includes corporate entities in its definition of a “person.” Within days, faced with mounting criticism, Indiana Republicans contrived with embarrassing alacrity to alter the language of the act, destroying its original purpose by adding special protections for homosexuals.
What was most ominous about the events in Indiana was the formidable array of powerful corporate interests that immediately joined in the chorus of condemnation against the state’s RFRA, including Apple, American Airlines, Walmart, Salesforce, Subaru, Angie’s List, Eli Lilly, Cummins, Roche Diagnostics, and PayPal. Joining them were sports organizations like NASCAR and the NCAA, as well as religious groups (Disciples of Christ, the Islamic Society of North America) and the usual celebrities. The response was so well calibrated that one might easily suppose it to have been scripted beforehand. Governor Pence and his Republican allies were evidently bewildered by the sheer scope and ferocity of the protest, though they should not have been.
If the polling data on support for gay marriage is a reliable indicator, a substantial majority of Americans is now fully behind the homosexual civil-rights movement. Even before the Indiana debacle, support was running as high as 55 percent, and a recent Pew Research poll has shown a 60-percent rate, more than doubling the 27-percent levels polled in 1995. The formation of this “emergent consensus” explains why even a company like Cummins, which has striven to maintain an image consistent with the patriotic, blue-collar origins of its founder, did not hesitate to mount the gay-rights bandwagon.
So what are we to make of this dramatic reversal of American opinion? How have homosexual activists acquired such a plenitude of power and influence that they hold sway even in the boardrooms of many of the country’s most high-profile corporations?
Much has been made in the conservative press of the “homosexual agenda,” which is said to have originated with a 1987 article titled “The Overhauling of Straight America” by Marshall Kirk, a neuropsychiatrist, and Hunter Madsen, a Madison Avenue publicist. While Kirk seems to have been the instigator, Madsen’s influence was crucial, for the article (and the full-length book, After the Ball, which followed two years later) is nothing less than a revolutionary marketing strategy for the “gay” brand. If homosexuality is to be “normalized” in American society, they argue, several strategies must be pursued. First, Americans must be “desensitized” to the notion that homosexuals are different. They must be persuaded that “sexual preference” is just like differing tastes for “ice cream or sports.” Second, straight Americans must be persuaded that homosexuals are “victims” in two important respects: victims of a society that has denied them full civil rights, and “victims of fate,” insofar as they have not chosen to be homosexual. “The message must read, ‘As far as gays can tell, they were born gay, just as you were born white or black or athletic. What they do isn’t willfully contrary—it’s only natural for them.’” Third, religious objections to homosexual behavior must be demonized at every turn. Promoters of the homosexual brand must “muddy the moral waters” by circulating counterarguments to the conservative message that homosexuality is a sin, while forming alliances with the more liberal churches. Fourth, Americans in every walk of life must be brought to feel “shame and guilt” about their “homophobia.” Fifth, homosexuality must be made familiar to Americans through regular exposure: “Almost any behavior begins to seem normal if you are exposed to enough of it.” Homosexuals, especially “respectable gays,” must be brought out in front of the camera at every opportunity. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1989, Madsen criticized the gay-pride movement for its tendency to celebrate “flamboyant stereotypes at the cost of increased understanding with straights.” He suggested that homosexuals embark upon a strategy of “housecleaning”: “We aren’t against sex, but we do suggest that gays might be happier if they focused on long-term relationships rather than continue to experiment with anonymous sex.”
It should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention over the course of the past 25 years that the strategies proposed by Kirk and Madsen have been all too successful at normalizing homosexuality—or, at least, the idea that a homosexual “orientation” is perfectly natural. (Homosexual practice, on the other hand, has been kept discreetly under wraps.) But as successful as this marketing of the gay brand has been, it could not have made much headway if Americans had not already been predisposed to it by the long development of what sociologist Philip Rieff called the “therapeutic culture,” a culture rooted in affluence, consumerism, and perpetual rebellion against the old communal culture and its system of moral demands. In the therapeutic culture each individual is liberated to pursue his own desires, convinced that he is the self-created agent of those desires, or, as Stephen L. Gardner has so aptly put it, the “demi-god of his eros and ambitions.” Within such a culture, sexual desire has gradually become detached from its place in the natural order, and sexual “identity” elevated to an almost sacramental status. Facebook, surely a bellwether of our free fall into mass narcissism and incoherence, now offers some 56 gender alternatives to traditional male/female sex identities, and each of these implies one or more modes of sexual satisfaction. Of course, most Americans are boorishly indifferent to this bewildering array of options. Nonetheless, the unending Sexual Revolution has made deep inroads in Middle America. Consider the sex-toy industry. David Rosen at alternet.org estimates that global profits in sex accessories now approach $15 billion annually, much of which is generated by U.S. sales. Who is buying all those naughty products? Well, it seems that a whopping number of them are purchased by middle-class American women. In much of suburban American, “Passion Parties” are now not only hip but respectable. Modeled in part on the old Tupperware parties, Passion Parties generate millions in profits for sex-toy companies like For Ladies Only and Pure Romance, the latter claiming to “empower women” to the tune of $130 million in profits in 2014. To judge by its website, Pure Romance is clearly targeting affluent heterosexual women, most of whom are presumably married or aspire to be. Among the company’s best sellers is something called “Booty Eaze,” an anal soothing gel that retails for $15 per tube. Somehow, in the blink of a nether eye, sodomy has become a recreational activity in suburban bedrooms. Just a few years ago the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that 46 percent of American women had admitted to experimenting with anal sex. Indeed, the percentage of Americans who find nothing inherently wrong with anal intercourse has been steadily rising, in every age bracket, right alongside the numbers who approve of gay marriage.
Given the pervasive spread of a culture in which forms of sexual expression that were once considered deviant are now widely considered harmless fun between consenting adults, and in which more than 80 percent now consider “love” to be the primary justification for marriage, it can hardly be surprising that gay marriage has met with such soft resistance. If the regnant model of sexuality in America is now one in which love and mutual pleasure trump childbearing and long-term sacrifice for the sake of one’s progeny, then homosexuals epitomize the new Zeitgeist, for in homosexuality the Sexual Revolution finds its sterile apotheosis. The irony, though, is that the push for same-sex “marriage” has been successful only by silencing or at least sidelining the more radical “queer” voices within the movement. Before the 1990’s marriage was far from being a priority for homosexual activists. It is true that when the National Coalition of Gay Organizations convened in Chicago in 1972 they issued a platform that, among other things, called for the “Repeal of all legislative provisions that restrict the sex or number of those entering a marriage unit,” but that statement came at the end of a long list of demands, and its emphasis on “number” suggests that the coalition’s idea of marriage was hardly Heather Has Two Mommies material. Today, the “queer” radicals who manage to find a venue rail bitterly against the “conservative” single-issue politics driving the same-sex marriage train. In part this is because they resent the defunding of causes they deem worthier, like AIDS research, even as money flows copiously into the coffers of the gay-marriage campaign. But many also view marriage as an inherently oppressive institution and argue that same-sex marriage legislation merely allows the tradition of “heterosexual privilege” to be extended to a handful of “respectable” homosexuals. Others point out that marriage is simply a failed institution—and perhaps they have a point. They envision a world in which families centered on monogamous relationships are just one among many kinds of equally deserving configurations, including not only queer households but extended-family immigrant households, blended families, single-parent families, polyamorous families, and more. Nor do they flinch at calling for massive state subsidies for such diverse arrangements.
Self-styled conservatives, on the other hand, while acknowledging that traditional marriage is in deep trouble, never tire of telling us that the preservation of the “nuclear family” and a reinvigorated free market will be the salvation of the country. Rarely are we reminded that the most prevalent form of the family in America before the early 20th century was not the “nuclear” model but what sociologists call the “extended residential family”—a configuration that included not just mom, dad, and their children, but grandparents and other blood relations. Such families were not just units of mostly self-sufficient economic production but vigorous, fiercely independent cadres of protection and support. The force that gradually eroded and reconstructed the older family model was the market economy itself. The wage-labor system, originating in New England in the antebellum era, effectively destroyed the self-sufficiency of the old household economy by drawing men (and often women and children) into the factories. Nonetheless, the extended family remained prevalent (if not altogether self-sufficient) until the 1920’s, when over half the American population continued to reside in small, predominantly agricultural communities. As the market economy expanded, however, wages improved enough to allow most male wage earners to become the sole provider of their families, and family size was increasingly reduced, abetted by the proliferation of labor-saving technology. The nuclear family that emerged in the middle of the 20th century was already a very different sort of family unit, not just economically, but in its affective dimension. Most importantly, as the procreative imperative was eliminated, family became what Christopher Lasch called a “haven in a heartless world,” a world set apart from the economic sphere, one in which love, emotional intimacy, recreation, and, increasingly, sexual pleasure become the chief attributes of heterosexual bonding. Yet even in the 1950’s and 60’s that nuclear “haven” was, as the postwar consumer economy exploded, already subject to invasion by a number of external influences, eroding it from within. The bonds between parents and children were severely strained if not destroyed by the Pied Piper allure of the mass media; traditional family mores were relentlessly assaulted by advertising and television programming; swarms of parasitic “experts” began to intervene in virtually every aspect of family life; and, as wages became increasingly depressed in the 1970’s, women were driven into the marketplace, robbing men of their traditional “provider” role and essentially rendering them superfluous. Arguably, as historian Stephanie Coontz has suggested, feminism itself was largely a market-driven response by women who found themselves competing with men in an economy that had by now reduced everyone to a player in the capitalist lottery.
For present purposes, however, the most significant development was the discovery of a “gay identity” by homosexuals. In an essay published in 1983, the prominent homosexual scholar and activist John D’Emilio argued persuasively that, as distinct from homosexual behavior, homosexual identity only began to emerge in America in the late 19th century, and especially later in the period between the two world wars as a result of a wage-labor system, which, as it expanded, weakened individual ties to the family unit and local communities, drawing many thousands of men and women with homosexual inclinations into urban enclaves where “gay” subcultures began to develop for the first time. He writes, “Only when individuals began to make their living through wage labor, instead of as parts of an interdependent family unit, was it possible for homosexual desire to coalesce into a personal identity.” Nor has the marketplace been oblivious to the economic potential of “gay consumers.” Marketing directed specifically at homosexuals began as early as the late 1940’s and has continued to expand. Since homosexuals are less likely to have economic dependents, their discretionary buying power is enhanced. Today, that buying power is estimated to be well in excess of $800 billion, a fact that goes a long way to explain why American corporations are stumbling over themselves in the rush to establish their “LGBT-friendly” credentials, which admits of a certain paradox, since it is the “invisible hand” of the market that has advanced the interests of gay society all along. Clearly, today democratic sentiment in America is little more than a reflex of market imperatives. Americans possess neither the will to resist nor the independence of mind to see that we are now swimming with the Gadarene swine. One is, therefore, inclined to be a mite cynical, and to recall Mencken’s sage aphorism: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”