Gay Marriage: Equal Rights, Equal Responsibilities, and my own Socialization
When Bill Clinton fungoed the motion that lesbians and gay
men should serve semi-openly in the military, I woke up. Since the post-Stonewall
period, I had lived a somewhat segregated urban gay life in my own way, able to
hold down reasonably paying jobs as an individual technical contributor and
partake of a middle-class lifestyle of home ownership, travel, and culture, as
well as a series of my own kind of selected “relationships.” Suddenly, I
realized that I had always been a second-class citizen and outsider, but maybe
now I didn’t have to be. As a child of the Cold War,
I was an only child and I somewhat fit the “sissy boy” stereotype, but in high school I blossomed socially in my own way as a nerd. This outlook did not work at William and Mary, however, where I had difficulty in the freshman dorm with some of the other boys (including my roommate) and would get expelled right after Thanksgiving for “telling” the Dean of Men that I was a “latent homosexual.” Psychiatric “hospitalization” would follow, and I would “redeem” myself eventually by volunteering to be drafted and serving in the Army uneventfully. All of this would set up my involvement with the military ban debate in the 1990s, including writing my Do Ask Do Tell books. My activities would also complicate family matters, as I would be unable to care for my mother in 1999 when she needed major medical attention.
Other people in my mother’s peer circuit see me as unsocialized. I am civilized: I pay my bills, obey the law, and don’t harm or threaten others directly. But socialization means more. I am expected to incorporate the needs of others into my own priorities and make those other-centered goals my own. “Family values” is the usual method for this. That is, fall for the tender trap: court girls, get married, have children and devote myself to my biological legacy—“family first.” For the most part, I was a second class citizen because I didn’t procreate. I was uninterested, unable, or rebellious—probably a combination of all three. If I did not “pay my dues” the way my generation expected, I did not count as a self-defining person. I was supposed to care take for others who played by the rules and propagated families, rather than compete with them as an “alien.”
This “religious” notion of other-connectedness looks necessary to give every human life value. If I am able to pursue my own ends without accountability and others follow the example I set, then our whole culture becomes a brutal meritocracy. Laissez-faire seems to have exacerbated our current economic climate. Never before has it been so convenient to blame an individual person for failing competitively and then falling to the wrong side of the economic divide.
The political Left, however, correctly points out that biological families transmit unearned generational wealth, and provide easy fodder for religious or political demagogues. People will hide behind “family” or hucksterize because they have kids to raise. The libertarian perspective correctly argues that individualism, non-conformity and diversity provide checks against the corrupt establishment by giving people the incentive to make their own ways in the world, even before they attempt adult relationships and then families. This idea has worked well for gays and lesbians since Stonewall, partly because society is rich enough to afford it. But in a post 9-11, post-Enron “cheating culture” world, families are under more stress, and we all have to look at how we will take care of one another.
Gay marriage (not just civil unions) could socialize people like me without obliterating individual self-direction. Jonathan Rauch argues this with mathematical syllogisms in his recent book. Why, then, is it so resented? Besides religion, a lot of the resistance (“moms, dads, and babies”) comes from people who have a major psychological investment in blood, lineage, and the associated norms of “efficient” sexual complementarity and performance. My freshman college roommate whined that rooming with a suspected homosexual could make him impotent! Intellectual decomposition with “rationality” simply loses these people; the only thing that wins them over is the examples that we can all set personally.
I have always spoken my own opinion about issues regarding freedom and responsibility, and I have resisted “solidarity” when claims of group oppression are seen as preempting personal accountability. I am also quite sensitive to claims that my freedom harms others, at least by my example or neglect. I can do my own part with family responsibility and supporting others much more effectively if I have fully equal rights.
This is a list of other books that contribute ideas to this essay. The social and political viewpoints in these books are very mixed and balanced.
Bawer, Bruce (editor). Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay
Belkin, Aaron and Bateman, Geoffrey, Editors. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Debating the Gay Ban in the
Boaz, David. Libertarianism:
Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly
Callahan, David. The
Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead.
Crittenden, Ann: The Price
of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is the Least Valued.
Ehrenreich, Barbara: Nickel and Dimed:
On (Not) Getting By in
Eskridge, William N. The Case for Same-Sex Marriage: From
Longman, Phillip. The
Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do
Morgen, Kenneth. Getting Simon.
Morse, Jennifer Roback. Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work. Dallas, Spence, 2001l
Osburn, C. Dixon and others. Conduct Unbecoming: The 10th
Annual Report on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Rauch, Jonathan A. Gay Marriage: Why It Is
Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for
Sullivan, Andrew. Virtually
Sullivan, Andrew and
Landau, Joseph (editors). Same-Sex
Marriage, Pro and Con: A Reader.
©Copyright 2004 by
This piece was submitted to The Washington Blade on
Kevin Naff (July
30) and Chris Crain (Aug 13) have both recently contributed editorials calling
for practical approaches for ENDA. Naff’s story about
the boss (at a mainstream company) who reiterated Jerry Fallwell’s
ridiculous remarks blaming gays for 9-11 is particularly shocking. I honestly
believe that this incident is an outlier.
I understand the real-world value for many lesbians and gay men for passing (as legislation) the “best we can get” in terms of measures like ENDA, hate crimes laws, and civil unions. But it is important to bear principle in mind, too.
I still think it is well to focus on what drives backlash and discrimination in this modern, Internet era where private lives have again become so public. “Average” families with heavy childcare or eldercare responsibilities often reel in today’s laissez-faire, individualistic economy and society, now against faced with real limits. Yet, gays have often, as a practical matter, benefited from the modern emphasis on freedom, self-expression, and immediate personal responsibility, all facilitated by technology. Some “straights” feel that gays don’t carry their share of the burdens of family responsibility. Of course, as Jonathan Rauch argues, gay marriage provides an opportunity to rectify this. It does. (So would gay adoption and lifting the military “don’t ask don’t tell.”) But then older-generation straights eschew such rationalizations and act hurt by the apparent affront to old-fashioned notions of lineage, kinship, and socialization generated from the gender complementarity of traditional marriage.
My own personal experience with discrimination and freedom loss relates back to my disinclination to form a family and create my own biological lineage. This aloofness has been perceived by others as a lack of intergenerational (or “family”) responsibility. In a post 9-11 world faced with global warming, falling birthrates, an eldercare crisis and overseas labor competition, there is likely to be more talk of who should make the sacrifices, as well as insistence on “paying your dues,” perhaps more easily done by those who conform to majoritarian social and procreative motives. Jonathan Rauch is right to talk about gay responsibility—in areas like military service, marriage, and parenting. The problem, of course, is circularity. If we are kept from principled, equal collective responsibility, we might really be expected to make the sacrifices for “families.” You have to keep the big view in mind.
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