D-Day, we are now taught, was the one day 50 years ago when civilization proved that democracy and the notion of liberty could work. Hitler had assumed that young soldiers and workers disciplined by allegiance to the State would prevail over those "softened" by personal freedom. He was wrong. Motivation to serve family, faith and country, and only then to self, turned out to be exceed blind nationalism, mysticism, hero-worship, and blind obedience.
Yet, freedom has always been balanced by the needs of immediate others and of the community welfare, and with limits on personal creativity and independence. Fifty years ago, we had a society where fidelity to "gender roles" was perceived as basic to community survival. Men were expected to make themselves fungible, to offer themselves in war or even in dangerous occupations; women risked childbirth and then later dedicated them selves to taming otherwise reckless men. For all kinds of reasons, including the Cold War, Viet Nam (including the controversy over conscription and deferments), and a rising standard of living made possible in part by technology originally envisioned for common defense, men and women gradually began to realize they could live their lives for their own purposes, and achieve communal welfare through Ayn Rand's "enlightened self-interest." But this transformation varied greatly among different groups. Stonewall was not simply a rebellion for "gay rights"; it was a turning point, a divide where a formal tension had to be recognized, between those motivated by their own inner selves, and those motivated by fulfilling more conventional roles in raising families. Social policies had seemed automatic when everyone's identity was circumscribed by common notions of male prerogatives, intercourse, and resulting family kinships, with little credibility given to personal autonomy. But years after Stonewall, the privileges of heterosexual marriage now come across as "special rights" derived from the State.
Today, the "Radical Right" maintains a poorly articulated position which bears a certain parallel to Hitler's. That is, a man is deserving of full personhood (and adult freedom) only if he has first dedicated himself to procreation and to raising a family; a woman is to be respected only if she will limit herself to domesticating men (and then remaining wife and mother). Monogamous heterosexual marriage is held to build "new selves" which are supposed prerequisites to any kind of success in life. Obviously, gay men and lesbians contradict this view more than any other group of people, and are in some sense in danger of becoming the modern era's equivalent to the Jews of the 1930's (much more than that of the slaves in the 19th Century). Gay men, in particular, are depicted by the Right as locked into a juvenile narcissism, a parasitic burden and health hazard to "normal" people who are willing to complete their rites of passage.
Clearly, politicians and demagogues often maintain this facile position for no other motive than personal self-aggrandizement. But why do people still believe it? Part of it is habit; another reason is that most middle-class people raising children are so overwhelmed that they just don't have the luxury of creative or critical thinking. Another reason is male vulnerability; as we know from Senator Sam Nunn's rhetoric, many heterosexual men feel that their ability to perform "like men" may be undermined if they are forced to even acknowledge positively the homosexuality of some of their peers.
In the long run, gay rights should be seen in view of individual rights and responsibilities, and not by trying to cast gays as another "oppressed group" similar to blacks. The "suspet class" ideology is an unfortunate artifact of the way our constitutional law and social history (with certain periods of collectivism) have evolved. The end point of a gay rights movement ought to be that society legally recognizes the right of any adult to intimate association with a chosen, consenting, adult "significant other." Politically, this may not be unlike recognizing a basic right to practice one's own religion.
To win these rights, we will have to work through society's hangups over gender roles and personal identity, and, especially, the growing conflict between those responsible for raising children and those not. This task will require unprecedented intellectual honesty, in a society used to the politics of collective compromise, coalition, and solidarity. The job will be easier if, by taking further advantage of the "free market," we can make the economy more prosperous and stable for everyone; this means accepting a more entrepreneurial, decentralized workplace and concomitant benefit structures, health care, and employee ownership opportunities. Within a proper economic framework, the other major work we must do is, ten years into the age of AIDS, is to set the best possible examples individually with our own performance and behavior. The examples of gay men and lesbians serving in the military show our potentials publicly, as do many people I have met myself who are obvious role models in other areas. A healthy independent identity is still tied to meeting the needs of others, and to faithfulness to principle.
For two essays by Dave Edmondson please refer to GLIL web site.
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