Monthly Archives: September 2007

How David Blankenhorn Helps Our Kids

First published at 365gay.com on September 17, 2007

David Blankenhorn is the kind of same-sex marriage opponent you might consider inviting to your (gay) wedding.

I’m not saying you should. After all, in his books, articles and talks, Blankenhorn has defended the position that same-sex marriage weakens a valuable institution. So when your minister intones “If anyone here has any objections to this union…” all eyes would be on him.

But Blankenhorn is virtually unique among same-sex marriage opponents in his insistence on “the equal dignity of homosexual love.” He has stated this belief repeatedly in his talks, particularly those to conservative audiences. And he stated it again recently in an online “bloggingheads” discussion with same-sex marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch. Despite his ultimate opposition, Blankenhorn concedes that there are a number of strong reasons for supporting same-sex marriage, not least being our equal worth.

This is an unusual, refreshing, and significant concession.

Before you call me an Uncle Tom—excited about crumbs from the table rather than demanding my rightful place at it—let me be clear.

I think Blankenhorn is dead wrong in his opposition to same-sex marriage. In particular, his argument is marked by some serious fallacies:

(1) The leap from “Most people who want to dethrone marriage from its privileged position support same-sex marriage” to “Most same-sex-marriage supporters want to dethrone marriage from its privileged position.” That’s like moving from “Most professional basketball players are tall” to “Most tall people are professional basketball players.” In fact, most couples who want same-sex marriage do so precisely because they recognize marriage’s special status.

(2) The leap from “Same-sex-marriage support correlates with ‘marriage-weakening behaviors’ (non-marital cohabitation, single-parent childrearing, divorce)” to “Same-sex marriage should be opposed.” Putting aside the questionable claims about correlation, this argument falsely assumes that only bad things correlate with bad things. As I’ve argued before, that’s not so. (Worldwide, affluence correlates with obesity, but it doesn’t follow we should oppose affluence.)

Besides, Blankenhorn overlooks all of the good things that correlate with same-sex marriage (higher education rates, support for religious freedom, respect for women, and so on).

(3) The move from “Children do better with their biological parents than in other kinds of arrangements” to “Same-sex marriage is bad for children.” Blankenhorn’s argument here is more subtle than most. It’s not that gay and lesbian couples make bad parents (indeed, Blankenhorn supports gay adoption); it’s that same-sex marriage reinforces the notion that marriage isn’t primarily about children. And widespread acceptance of that notion—particularly in the hands of the heterosexual majority, who do not escape Blankenhorn’s critique—is bad for children. This argument (which deserves more than a cursory treatment) is marked by a number of dubious empirical assumptions; it also ignores children who are already being raised by same-sex parents and would palpably benefit from their parents’ legal marriage.

Beyond these concerns, I’m tempted to respond to Blankenhorn’s point about “the equal dignity of homosexual love” with an exasperated “Duh!” Yes, we love our partners! We rejoice with them in times of joy; we suffer when they ail; we weep when they die. The failure to notice this is not just obtuse, it’s morally careless. Thanking someone for acknowledging it feels akin to thanking the neighbor kids for not peeing on my lawn, or thanking my students for not sleeping in class—those were never supposed to be options, anyway.

Ironically, it’s largely because of kids that I resist giving this kind of snarky response. It’s all well and good that I think truths about our lives are obvious. But in the real world—the one we actually live in—people believe and spread vicious falsehoods about us. I’m concerned about our kids’ hearing them.

Blankenhorn may be mistaken—even badly so—but he isn’t vicious. What’s more, he has the ear of audiences who would never listen to me, much less to the ideological purists who call me an “Uncle Tom.” And he’s telling those audiences about the equal dignity of our love. I’m genuinely grateful for that.

Would I prefer that Blankenhorn preached the equal dignity of same-sex love without opposing marriage equality? Of course. But I don’t always get what I prefer. And I also realize that, if Blankenhorn shared all of my preferred views, he wouldn’t have the attention of opponents I want to convert—if not to marriage equality, then at least to a belief in our equal dignity.

Do I need Blankenhorn’s approval for my relationship? Of course not. But public discourse matters. Ideas matter; votes matter. They matter to us, and they matter to those who come after us.

When Blankenhorn tells our opponents about “the equal dignity of homosexual love,” he’s talking to people with kids. Some of those kids will be gay. For their sake, I’m critical of him. For their sake, I’m also grateful to him.

Compassion for Craig?

First published on September 4, 2007, at 365gay.com

Jim West, Jim McGreevey, Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, Bob Allen, David Vitter. Now Larry Craig.

Public figures’ getting caught with their pants down is nothing new. What is new is a high-tech culture that makes exposure likely, rapid, and widespread. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to “disorderly conduct” in Minnesota in the hopes that no one would notice in his home state of Idaho. A quarter-century ago, when Craig started his congressional career, that strategy might actually have worked.

For those who haven’t been following the news: Craig is a U.S. Senator who was arrested in June for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. He also happens to be a staunch opponent of gay rights, with a zero voting scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign.

People love sex scandals, and they especially love a sex scandal that brings a moralistic finger-wagger to his knees (ahem). Perhaps that’s why the above list —taken from recent memory, and by no means exhaustive—includes only one Democrat. Liberals enjoy sex as much as anyone, and they surely have their skeletons. But when someone soliciting forbidden sex is known for railing against sexual sin, it makes for a juicier story.

What is striking about the Craig saga is this: despite his over thirty years of public service, virtually no one rallied to his defense. Conservatives view him as a deviant. (Mitt Romney, whose Idaho presidential campaign Craig had chaired, referred to Craig’s behavior as “disgusting” before the senator even had an opportunity to release a statement.) Liberals view him as a hypocrite. Absolutely no one views him as credible. (His claim that he touched the arresting officer’s foot because he has a “wide stance” rang especially hollow.)

Various sides in the culture wars will try to make an example of Craig. Gay-rights opponents will spin the story as further evidence of homosexuality’s sordid nature, not to mention its vicious power. After all, if seemingly God-fearing men like Ted Haggard and Larry Craig can succumb to such behavior, who among us is safe?

Gay-rights advocates, by contrast, will spin it as evidence of the dangers of the closet. After all, openly gay people generally neither want nor need to troll restrooms for clandestine encounters.

The opponents are right to point out that sex is powerful, in a way that can make smart people do dumb, sometimes disastrous things. They’re wrong to think that this point is any more applicable to homosexuality than to heterosexuality (note Vitter’s name in the list above).

True, straight people don’t typically seek sex in public restrooms. But that’s partly because (1) public restrooms are mostly segregated by sex and (2) “quickie” sex is anatomically less convenient for women—which still hasn’t prevented some from joining the “mile high club” in cramped airplane lavatories.

The bigger reason is (3) straight people don’t feel the desperate need to conceal their erotic interests in the way closeted gay people do.

And that’s where gay-rights advocates make a decisive point: the culture of the closet is unhealthy for everyone involved. Lying about one’s sex life makes it easier to lie about other things; it also precludes the counsel of friends in an area where such counsel is desperately needed. (See previous point about sex being powerful.)

Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank put it well in a Newsweek interview regarding the Mark Foley scandal: “Being in the closet doesn’t make you do dumb things, doesn’t justify you doing dumb things, it just makes them likelier.” Frank should know: he was once embroiled in a scandal of his own involving a gay prostitute living in his Washington apartment during the 1980’s, when Frank was still closeted.

I’ll concede one point to gay-rights opponents: the fact that Larry Craig sought sex with men doesn’t prove he was wrong to condemn gay marriage, oppose workplace protections for gays, or support the military ban. He was wrong about those things independently of his sex life. In any case, our lives don’t always reflect our best judgment.

But the fact that Larry Craig sought sex with men does mean that he ought to have mustered more compassion for gays than his public stance suggested. (It’s one area where his stance was decidedly narrow.)

It’s easy to call Craig a deviant, a liar, and a hypocrite. It’s hard to feel compassion for someone who showed little of it to those who deal openly with challenges he knew privately. But compassion is still a virtue. Craig may not deserve it, but right now, he desperately needs it.

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