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.