Monthly Archives: January 2009

What’s Best for Children

First published at 365gay.com on January 30, 2009

I don’t have children, I don’t want children, and I don’t “get” children.

Some of my friends have children. I like their children best at two stages of their lives:

(1) When they’re small enough that they come in their own special carrying cases and stay put in them.

(2) When they’re big enough that they don’t visit at all, but instead do their own thing while their parents do grownup stuff.

In between those stages, children tend to run amok, which makes me nervous. My house is full of sharp and heavy objects. I did not put them there to deter children—honest!—but I am more comfortable when children (or their parents) are thus deterred. It’s safer for everyone involved.

Having said that, I admire people who have children. I have a flourishing life largely because I was raised by terrific parents. When others choose to make similar sacrifices, I find it immensely praiseworthy.

Which may be why opposition to gay adoption makes me so angry.

Mind you, I am not by nature an angry person. Regular readers of this column know that I go out of my way to understand my opponents. Rick Warren compares homosexuality to incest? Well, what did he mean by the comparison? What was the context? What’s motivating him?

Attack gay parents, however, and my first impulse is to pick up one of the aforementioned sharp and heavy objects and hurl it across the room.

That’s partly because these attacks criticize adults who are doing a morally praiseworthy thing. And it’s partly because the attacks hurt innocent children, toward whom I feel oddly protective, despite my general aversion.

Back in November, a Miami Dade circuit judge ruled that Florida’s law banning gays from adopting is unconstitutional. This is very good news.

The Florida ban took effect in 1977, the era of Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell. We’ve come a long way since then—or so I’d like to think.

Yet the Florida religious right is trotting out the same old arguments, repeatedly insisting that having both a mother and father is “what’s best for children.”

Let’s put down our sharp and heavy objects for a moment and try addressing this calmly.

Every mainstream child health and welfare organization has challenged this premise. The American Academy of Pediatrics. The Child Welfare League of America. The National Association of Social Workers. The American Academy of Family Physicians—you name it.

These are not gay-rights organizations. These are mainstream child-welfare organizations. And they all say that children of gay parents do just as well as children of straight parents.

But let’s suppose, purely for the sake of argument, that they’re all wrong. Let us grant—just for argument’s sake—that what’s best for children is having both a mother and a father.

Even with that major concession, our opponents’ conclusion doesn’t follow. The problem is that their position makes the hypothetical “best” the enemy of the actual “good”.

Indeed, when discussing adoption, it’s a bit misleading to ask what’s “best” for children.

In the abstract, what’s “best” for children—given our opponents’ own premises—is to not need adoption in the first place, but instead to be born to loving heterosexual parents who are able and willing to raise them.

So what we’re really seeking is not the “best”—that option’s already off the table—but the “best available.”

What the 1977 Florida law entails is that gay persons are NEVER the best available. And that’s a difficult position for even a die-hard homophobe to maintain.

It’s difficult to maintain in the face of thousands of children awaiting permanent homes.

It’s difficult to maintain in the face of gay individuals and couples who have selflessly served as foster parents (which they’re permitted to do even in Florida).

It’s difficult to maintain in light of all the other factors that affect children’s well-being, such as parental income, education, stability, relationships with extended family, neighborhood of residence, and the like—not to mention their willingness and preparedness to take on dependents.

What the Florida ban does is to single out parental sexual orientation and make it an absolute bar to adoption, yet leave all of the other factors to be considered on a “case-by-case,” “best available” basis.

Meanwhile, thousands of children languish in state care.

For the sake of those children, I resist my urge to hurl heavy objects at the Florida “family values” crowd. Instead, I ask them sharply and repeatedly:

Do you really believe that it is better for children to languish in state care than to be adopted by loving gay people?

Those are the real-world alternatives. Those are the stakes. And our opponents’ unwillingness to confront them is an abysmal moral failure.

Gene Robinson’s Scary Prayer

First published at 365gay.com on January 23, 2009

When Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson was invited to deliver the invocation at the inaugural kickoff event, I expected some conservative evangelicals to complain. And they did.

Forget the fact that Robinson’s invitation seemed like a token gesture after the controversial choice of evangelical pastor (and Prop-8 supporter) Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation—a far more prominent platform.

Forget the fact that Warren himself praised the choice of the openly gay bishop as demonstrating the new president’s “genuine commitment to bringing all Americans of goodwill together in search of common ground.”

Indeed, for the moment, forget common ground. As one right-wing blogger put it, a good evangelical doesn’t seek common ground with the “Bishop of Sodom.”

And so they complained. Not only about Obama’s choice of Robinson, but about the prayer itself [full prayer at http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/faith_and_politics/gene_robinsons_prayer_for_pres.html. ]

What grieved them so? Was it the prayer’s failure to mention Jesus? Its lack of scriptural references? Its line about blessing the nation with anger—“anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people”?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But those were not the parts that worried the evangelicals who contacted me a few days ago. They were concerned that Robinson’s prayer expressed a theme that they “have been trying to warn people about for some time now,” and they wanted my comment.

What is this worrisome theme? What sinister agenda had the “Bishop of Sodom” expressed in his prayer, wittingly or unwittingly?

It turns out that the troubling line was this: “Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.”

Puzzled? The line strikes most of us as innocuous, or even benign. “Genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences”—who can argue with that?

But that’s not the part that bothered them. They were worried about “freedom from mere tolerance.”

We will not appreciate the right-wing mindset—or for that matter, the culture wars—until we understand why that sentiment scares our opponents.

When Robinson says “Bless us with freedom mere tolerance,” our opponents hear “It is not enough for you to tolerate us. You ought to embrace us. You ought to approve of who we are, which can’t be easily teased apart from what we do. After all, our relationships are a deep and important fact about our lives—just like yours are. So what we are asking is for you to give up your deep conviction that these relationships are sinful and instead affirm them as good.”

That is in fact precisely what we are (or should be) asking for, and precisely what Bishop Robinson is praying for.

No, we don’t seek such affirmation because we need our opponents’ validation. Rather, we seek it because it reflects the truth: our relationships are just as good as theirs.

We seek it for another reason as well, one that frightens them even more. Statistically speaking, some of their kids will turn out gay. I want those kids to know that there’s nothing wrong with them. I want them to be able, insofar as possible, to count on their parents for affirmation and support.

And that’s where the culture war really is a zero-sum game, and “common ground” is impossible without dramatic concession: we want their kids to believe something that is diametrically opposed to what they want them to believe. There’s no point in sugarcoating that conflict.

If I were religious, I might pray over it, as Warren and Robinson do—although when it comes down to specifics, it seems they are praying for very different things.

Or are they? One need not be a relativist to recognize that we all have an imperfect grasp of the truth, a truth that we nevertheless seek. When we find it—or at least, firmly believe that we have—we don’t want it to be merely “tolerated.”

That’s as true of Rick Warren as it is of Gene Robinson.

As I pointed out to my evangelical caller, I’m sure that he wants me, a skeptic, to move beyond “mere tolerance” of Christianity to embrace Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.

No one who values truth wants it to be merely tolerated. We “tolerate” nuisances; we embrace truth.

That doesn’t mean that we believe that truth ought to be forced upon people, as if that were even possible. And this is where I think our opponents’ fears, while palpable, are ultimately unfounded.

We want them to move from mere tolerance to embracing the truth. They want us to do the same—although they see the truth quite differently. We will attempt to persuade each other.

But we cannot force truth—not by legislation, not by court decisions, and certainly, not by prayer.

Gay Sex Isn’t Weird. Sex Is.

First published at 365gay.com on January 16, 2009

Why are our opponents so obsessed with butt sex?

I’ve personally pondered this question more times than is probably healthy. It occurred to me a few weeks ago when a poster on a conservative blog complained that gays “expect us to approve of butt sex and call it marriage.”

Really?

Then last week I was reading an essay by the philosopher Michael Levin. After denying that homosexuality is immoral, he goes on to describe it as “disgusting, nauseating, closely connected with fecal matter. One need not show that anal intercourse is immoral to be warranted in wanting to be as far away from it as possible.”

I think I would have liked “immoral” better.

Then, yesterday, I received an e-mail from a 15-year-old living in a small UK village. He’s thinking about coming out to his “mum and dad,” so he asked them what they thought about homosexuality. They told him, in no uncertain terms, that it was “wrong, unnatural, and disgusting.” He continued,

“But one major point they kept pointing out was… ummm… well they said it was gross how a man would stick his… yeah up another guys… ummm… yeah. And they said it’s where they sorta… yeah I ain’t going into much detail….But what I really want to know is how would you respond to someone who thinks like that?”

You mean, aside from telling them that they could probably use a big fat one up the bum themselves?

That’s not what I actually replied.

Instead I wrote, in part,

“In the abstract, of course it’s weird (and from some perspectives, gross) to think of a man sticking his penis up another man’s bum. But isn’t all sex weird in the abstract? Sticking a penis in a vagina, which bleeds once a month? Sucking on a penis, something both straight women and gay men do? Pressing your mouth—which you use for eating—against another person’s mouth, and touching tongues, and exchanging saliva (i.e. kissing)? Weird! Gross! (In the abstract, anyway.)”

Sex makes no sex in the abstract. But then you have urges, and you eventually act on them, and what once seemed weird and gross becomes…wow.

Our opponents recognize this in their own lives, but they can’t envision it elsewhere. It’s a profound failure of moral imagination—which is essential for empathy, which is at the foundation of the Golden Rule.

How can one “love thy neighbor as thyself” without any real effort to understand thy neighbor?

Our opponents contemplate our lives, our love, our longing, and what do they see? “Butt sex.” Such obtuseness is depressing.

Of course, not all gays engage in “butt sex”—some of us never do—and not only gays engage in “butt sex.”

Of course, most of what we do in bed is exactly the same as most of what they do in bed: cuddling and touching and caressing and kissing and sucking and rubbing and so on. (Not to mention sleeping, which when shared regularly can be beautifully intimate as well.)

What we do is the same not just in terms of formal acts. It’s the same in terms of being weird, and silly, and messy, and sublime.

Yes, Virginia, we make funny faces when we come, too.

It’s always easier to criticize the weirdness in others than to confront the weirdness in the mirror. (Perhaps that’s why mirrors in the bedroom are thought to be kinky.)

Our opponents take anxiety about sex—a natural and virtually universal human phenomenon—and wield it as a weapon against us. Shame on them.

As for the marriage-equality fight, what do you say to someone who thinks that we expect her “to approve of butt sex and call it marriage”?

Thankfully, another poster responded to that one more effectively than I ever could.

The respondent described herself as a lifelong Christian, daughter of a conservative minister, and “personally against gay marriage but passionate about gay civil rights.” (This description will strike some as paradoxical, but bravo to her for understanding the difference between personal beliefs and public policy.)

She then warmly depicts a gay couple she knows who have adopted two special-needs children. The children, she writes, “RADIATE happiness at each other, their parents, and the people around them. Somehow ‘butt sex’ doesn’t seem to neatly contain all the emotions, commitment, and wondrous devotion that their parents’ relationship has provided them with.”

She concludes by chiding her fellow Christian, “Please think carefully before you speak.”

Amen to that.

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