Monday, May 14, 2012

Did Andrew Sullivan Just Out President Obama?

Did Andrew Sullivan just out President Obama? Or was Tina Brown just trying to create some buzz?

Of course, Tina Brown was trying to create some buzz. She succeeded.

Did Sullivan just out Obama? This is much less likely. Recently we have all be regaled with David Maraniss’ chronicle about young Obama’s different girlfriends, so, the chances that Obama was a closeted gay are slim to none.

In calling Obama the first gay president Sullivan is echoing Toni Morrison’s declaration that Bill Clinton was the first black president.

Of course, you cannot “out” someone as a member of a racial group. With the exception of those few who can “pass” for members of a different race, most people do not have a choice in whether or not the world knows their race.

Under most circumstances you cannot know whether or not someone is gay by looking at them. They need to tell you or they need to be outed by someone else.

Whether or not they want anyone to know of their sexual orientation is their business. They may want you to know; they may not want you to know.

In principle, they have a choice in the matter. Depriving them of this choice by outing them feels morally unacceptable.

Sullivan's argument that Obama knows what it's like to be gay because he is black makes no sense.

Many gay rights activists believe that every gay should be out or outed. They hold that gay and straight sexual relations are fundamentally the same thing and that social disapproval of gay sex would disappear if all gays were out.

Since most rational individuals understand the difference between gay and straight sex, gay rights advocates have been obliged to force people into agreeing with them, by threats and name-calling, and other forms of intimidation.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the push toward gay marriage seems to be a response to the epidemic of HIV that swept through the gay male community. Since promiscuous behavior helped transmit the virus someone somewhere got the idea that if gays were allowed to marry they would become less promiscuous. Links to my previous posts about this issue here.

For the gay community, same-sex marriage is a life or death issue. Oppose gay marriage and you will sound like you want gay men to die off.

Since marriage stigmatizes extra-marital promiscuity, gay marriage would a solution to the problem of AIDS.

From this perspective, the argument has some saliency. Of course, no one is obliged to behavior promiscuously, but let us leave that to the side.

American young people and Argentinian socialists have embraced the idea of same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, they have overlooked the fact that all human communities grant a special privilege to the procreative act. It is in their interest to do so. The future of the community, the species, and your genes depends on it.

You might think that it’s God’s will. You might think that it’s Darwin’s theory. Either way, there is no escaping the central importance of heterosexual copulation. When a single act is so important to a group, it is reasonable that the group invest it with special value. It is reasonable that the group would not grant equal value to facsimiles.

It makes perfectly good sense that communities value this action, and that they sacralize it within a human institution that is designed to produce and raise future members of the community.

In the procreative act, one new person is produced by the union of two. Being singular the child unites and unifies community. When two members of two different families marry and produce a child, that singular child will symbolize the unification of those two families in community.

Also, two individuals who marry and produce a child will, in principle, be united in the person of the child that is neither his nor hers but theirs.

Unless you want to believe that God is a bigot or that biological and social realities are designed to discriminate, these facts are unobjectionable.

Andrew Sullivan begs to differ. His arguments exercise an influence that far surpasses their cogency, so let’s take a close look at what he has to say about the gay experience this morning in Newsweek.

When all is said and done Sullivan believes that everyone should recognize same-sex marriage because it will be therapeutic for him, and presumably, for all other gays.

In Sullivan’s words:

The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. They sense something inchoate, a separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame. And then, at some point, they find out what it all means. In the past, they often would retreat and withdraw, holding a secret they couldn’t even share with their parents—living as an insider outsider.

Intellectually, Sullivan’s arguments are muddled. At the least he should not universalize his personal experience.

I am confident that Sullivan would take offense at the fact that a large number of gays throughout human history have married and produced children. Still, it is a fact.

Sullivan might reply that heterosexuals have always had the right to marry the person they love while homosexuals have been obliged to marry someone they do not love and do not find very attractive.

In truth, most marriages throughout human history have been social arrangements. As I and many others have pointed out, romantic love has almost always existed outside of marriage. This has been equally true for straights and gays.

One can only wonder what Sullivan means when he suggests that gays are “mostly” born into heterosexual families.

Here Sullivan performs a rhetorical trick: he emphasizes the structure of families while hiding, or “closeting” the fact that it children are only produced by an act of heterosexual copulation.

Both straights and gays are produced by an act of heterosexual copulation. The act might be natural; it might be a scientific replica. Regardless, no one has ever been conceived through an act, sexual or otherwise, conducted between two individuals of the same sex.

Perhaps this means that God is a bigot, but reality is what it is. Denying it because it does not conform to your ideology does not feel like a step toward an inevitable outcome.

As long as procreation must involve two individuals of two different sexes, gay marriage is not inevitable; it is doomed to pass into obsolescence.

One appreciates Sullivan’s wish is to have a marriage like his parents’ or siblings’. Were he to marry a woman, he could. Since he has married a man, his marriage cannot be just like that of his parents or siblings.

Saying it is does not make it so. Sullivan’s marriage is not “like” that of his parents, for the simple reason that it has not been consummated by the performance of the action that might result in conception.

Just because the citizens of a state agree to call it a marriage, that does not make it a marriage “like” all other marriages. You can pass a law declaring that the earth is flat. It does not automatically become any less round. 

If a state passes a law recognizing same-sex marriage it is saying that, for the purposes of the law, it will treat a contractual link between two people of the same sex in the same way you treat a marriage. 

Same-sex marriage is a legal fiction. It might be the best way for same-sex couples to enter into a contract that offers certain rights and privileges, but that is not what Sullivan argues. He wants it to be just like all other marriages.

Some people are willing to say that it is, because most people want to be polite. Saying that it is so, even convincing the whole world to say that it is so does not make it so.

Within certain precincts it is possible that everyone accepts that gay marriage is equal to the real thing. In some parts of the world, the idea has taken root.

In other parts of the world, people are looking with some level of bemusement as Americans demonstrate that for all the sex education they have received they never learned about the birds and the bees.

They might even see it as a retreat from reality. For many of our competitors that counts as good news indeed.


pst314 said...

"One can only wonder what Sullivan means when he suggests that gays are 'mostly' born into heterosexual families."

Perhaps he is referring to the practice, which I first heard of in the 70's, of gay men donating sperm to turkey-baster-wielding lesbians.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

Neither God nor nature. They must have an ulterior motive.

It's worth noting they do not demand tolerance, which they already enjoy; but, they demand normalization of an objectively deviant and unproductive behavior.

The individuals and cooperatives (and perhaps sovereigns) they represent and ally with are merely seeking to exploit an emotionally satisfying appeal in order to marginalize their competing interests. They do this with other real and manufactured condemnations of bigotry.

Anyway, the victim in all of this is either evolution or God's order. Neither will be capable of withstanding the scrutiny of individuals with dreams of instant gratification without consequence.

On the other hand, since not every society is following suit, and inviting evolutionary dysfunction, perhaps this campaign is targeted with a specific purpose. And it certainly does not end with normalizing homosexual behavior. Deviant heterosexual behavior (e.g. promiscuity, elective abortion) is arguably worse for society and humanity.

In the meantime, $15.7 trillion of recorded federal public debt and counting. Dreams of instant gratification through redistributive and retributive change have tangible consequences.

Robert Mitchell Jr. said...

I think this whole issue is, in fact, Magic. Gays can not get married, because no one can get married. The Feminists flagship issues, Abortion and No-Fault divorce, have ended marriage and left us with a hollow, collapsing shell. The Feminists have always been good at tactics, and I think they have set the "gay community" up as the scapegoats of choice when the hollowness becomes official. While everyone looks at the Right hand, the Left hand is taking their chips off the table....

n.n said...

Robert Mitchell Jr.:

You're right. The social institution of marriage, engendered by a natural and productive relationship, has been under assault for much longer than just couplets pursuing normalization of their behavior. Unfortunately, the greater threat to our society and, if it spreads, to humanity, is the depraved behavior of many heterosexuals, when they embrace promiscuity, elective abortion of their children, etc. It's insane, but human consciousness is overriding a fundamental principal of the natural order, and evolutionary dysfunction will eventually take its toll.

Anonymous said...

Iloved that second-last paragraph. I'm firmly of the opinion that future generations will look back at the legalisation of homosexual marriage, and say to each other: 'What were they thinking?' - with a mixture of shame and bemusement.

Dennis said...

I would suggest that a significant number of homosexuals are bisexual at the very least. I believe that is what counts for the idea that churches can change behavior with some success.
What worries more is that people will fail to have children because of our slide to decadence and immorality. Islamists, and groups like them, will keep having more and more children and will have a growing influence on the governance of this country just as they are starting to in Europe. One only has to look at the elections in France to see a country that is quickly losing its culture.
I often wonder whether this has happened to humanity before to the point where we came close to annihilating the human species.

Barry said...

This whole conversation and posts are like a discussion among a confederacy of dunces. For those who are gay, it is an innate part of who they are. And their relationships are deserving of the exact same dignity and respect under civil law as your own.

Equating the desire for it as a response to the AIDS epidemic or as a deliberate attempt to assault traditional marriage is utter nonsense. Since you’re all about tradition, maybe you should ask yourself why you wish to perpetrate traditional bigotry.

“N.N’s” laughable comment about “demanding normalization of an objectively deviant behavior” is rich. I guess ‘objectively deviant’ is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure NN has done a great deal of empirical study to arrive at that conclusion beyond just pulling it straight out of her ass. And Dennis--your comment about churches “being able to change behavior with some success” is devoid of something I can’t seem to put my finger on…oh yeah, the truth. “Reparative therapy” is an oxymoron --since nothing gets repaired other than the coffers of those that offer it. It ends up destroying that person’s human spirit since that individual is innately gay and the disconnect can’t ever be bridged. It’s frankly rather cruel to assert that the gay or lesbian person needs repairing. The therapy should be reserved for those who advocate the “repair” in the first place to explore why they would treat their fellow human beings in that fashion.

It was traditional to outlaw interracial marriage in certain states until 1967--in fact, I believe our current President’s parents would be guilty of a felony if they choose to be married in Virginia at the time of the President’s birth. Today we would find such a position to be abhorrent.

Just like gay people find abhorrent your stunning lack of human grace to acknowledge the full worth of their relationships under civil law.

Whether gay folks choose to have children by adoption or surrogacy or they don’t have children at all--it has no bearing on whether straight couples get married or not or have children of their own or not. Your position only has the impact of stigmatizing a minority in the population who are deserving of equal respect under civil law for the person they love and whose demands are rooted squarely in the same. This traditional bigotry and stigmatization is what has led to a great deal of personal destruction; not their being gay. Isn’t it wonderful we finally have arrived to the point where we have a group of leading national figures who acknowledge this basic precept. A point that should be celebrated; not chided or demeaned or used as a foil to float you’re collective theorems based on nothing but your own prejudice.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I appreciate Barry's taking the time to express an alternative point of view.

One needs to recognize that until very recently, same-sex marriage has not existed. Perhaps that means that throughout human history everyone has been bigoted against gays, but that is a rather large claim.

As of now the debate has descended into name-calling and defamation. If the movement toward same-sex marriage is about gaining respect, however do you think that anyone is going to be respected when he or she is disparaged and defamed?

Obviously, the movement for same-sex marriage started somewhere for some reason.

You may not like my explanation, and I would be happy to hear another one.

It makes sense to me that marriage has always been what it has always been because it makes a certain amount of rational sense that the kind of coupling that produces future members of the community and the species should receive some kind of special treatment.

To say that marriage has always been as it is because it wants to systematically disrespect gays makes no sense... especially when there is a very clear reason why it should have been so.

Marriage has always been a mating ritual... it makes sense that a mating ritual should be limited to those who might mate.

For my part I do not believe that people who are born gay should or can be "cured."

As well as I understand it, most gays are born gay; therefore that is a normal orientation for them. Yet, it is worth recognizing that some people who engage in sexual activities with members of their sex are not gay. They might be confused and some form of therapy might help them to deal with the confusion.

Barry said...

Not really exploring the entirety of human history--even I wouldn’t attempt to be as grandiose as that (although I appreciate your attempt to do so). Let’s be generous--since we are Americans--I think it’s safe to say since the founding of the country those who are gay have been under the thumb of systemic bigotry. From involuntary committal to mental institutions, overt discrimination in the workplace and in government or frankly anywhere in civil life--to denying them the dignity of serving opening in the military, the country has been and continues to be quite destructive of a minority of its citizens. Perhaps you should explore the life and workings of Frank Kameny to get a picture of what the journey for the last ½ century to our even having this discussion and consideration of marriage at all has been like ( see

As you say you understand it, most gays are born gay and it is a normal orientation for them. I believe that has also been the American Psychiatric Association position since 1973. The question then is better asked--if this is an innate part of the human condition, why wouldn’t you allow “coupling” (as you call it) for gay people--and that to deny it is lacks a certain amount of rational sense.

Since when was the movement toward same sex marriage about gaining “respect”?...I believe it’s about similarly situated people being treated dissimilarly under law. And the name calling and defamation (as you call it) flows from the indignity of having to ask 3rd parties to recognize or sign off on our lives or to explore reasons why we should live or “go without” rather than celebrating who we are.

Gay and lesbian folks should have the right to be married under civil law--period. Their right to do as such is not itself a commentary against straight folks from continuing to marry for the reasons you cite.

Barry said...

perhaps...since some like looking at all of 'human history' to justify a position for to deny people full equality some reason---
the link might give one the perspective to see that marriage apparently hasn't been fixed for all of 'human history'..but one that evolves.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

When I talk about human history I am thinking of the analysis offered by Claude Levi-Strauss in The Elementary Structures of Kinship.

If people decide that they want to invent an institution, they do have a right to do so. I did not say that it had to be banned; I said that was a legal fiction. As such it provides certain rights and privileges-- something that everyone accepts-- but I seriously doubt that it will ever be considered to be the same thing as marriage.

If gay relationships are dissimilar to heterosexual marriage passing a law will not make them similar or equivalent.

People who believe that legal action will make them the same are setting themselves up for disappointment.

Barry said...

I think that’s where we differ--I’m ONLY interested in this issue as a legal matter--under our Federal constitution’s 14th amendment equal protection clause, the full faith and credit clause and American legal precedent as it has slowly been whittled into its current state.

If the country ultimately allows same gender marriage as a matter of federal law--it won’t be a legal fiction…it’ll be a legal fact. Not 'inventing' an institution or granting certain rights and privileges…but being part of an institution already in place called marriage where not certain rights and privileges flow--all attendant rights and privileges flow as a matter of law. While you’re certainly entitled to your opinion about the union being dissimilar to straight couples or the beneficiaries of it setting themselves up for disappointment, but that opinion has no bearing as a legal matter.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for the clarification. As you can tell, I am not very much interested in the legalities of the question. I am looking at it from quite a different angle, and, as I said, I have no objection to decreeing same-sex marriage as a means to afford same-sex couples the rights and privileges that inhere in marriage.

Most states seem not to want the idea to become law, but that, too, is another issue.

When I speak of legal fictions, I am thinking of the idea that, under the law, corporations are treated as though they were persons. Mitt Romney's confusion about the question notwithstanding it's a legal fiction-- no one thinks that corporations are people, but for the purposes of the law we are willing to treat them as though they were.