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Category: gay marriage (page 2 of 2)

The Gay Case Against Gay Marriage and Gay Bigotry

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By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 30 April 2009)

Who would have guessed the dainty opinions of a Miss America candidate would have been taken so seriously by gays and liberals?

Miss California, a practising Christian, was last week denounced by Miss America judge Perez Hilton on his blog as ‘a dumb bitch’ and unworthy of the Miss America crown because she gave the ‘wrong’ answer to his chippy question about gay marriage. Like most Americans – including the current Democratic President of the United States – she believes that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman’. Boo! Hiss! Rip her to shreds!

It wasn’t just the famously bitchy gay gossip-monger Hilton casting stones, however. For honestly and somewhat courageously answering his question Miss California was roundly condemned as a ‘bigot’ by hosts of gay and liberal bloggers, and was even denounced by the directors of the Miss California pageant who declared themselves ‘saddened’ by her views and that they had no place in the ‘Miss California family’, whatever that is. Most now agree with Hilton’s gloating claim that her answer cost her the crown.

Candidate Obama expressed the exact same view during the Presidential Election: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. You know, God’s in the mix.” Instead of being scorned as a bigot and a dumb bitch, Obama was handed the Mr America crown by liberals and probably most gay voters. But I suppose that being President of the United States is a rather less important title than Miss America.

Branding Christians and traditionalists ‘bigots’ for being Christians and traditionalists and thus none too keen to fundamentally revise the definition of marriage is a highly unattractive exercise in liberal self-righteousness that makes Miss America look quite sophisticated. Not to mention sounding a lot like pots and kettles rattling. It’s faintly absurd to have to even say this, but it isn’t bigoted to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s just being conventional. And after all, marriage itself is convention and tradition tied up in a big red bow and covered in confetti and sprinkled with Holy Water. Which is exactly why lesbians and gays should have nothing to do with it.

Today’s out and proud same-sex relationships are very unconventional and a very new kind of phenomenon. And so are in fact many of today’s cross-sex relationships in a brave new world of gender parity. Marriage on the other hand is an antiquated, failing institution based on inequality and traditional roles. Much like Miss America.

Marriage is, whether you like it or not, also based on religious sentiment: ‘God’s in the mix.’ Especially in a very religious country like America. And I have a hunch, based on millennia of violent opposition to sex that doesn’t produce more Christians, that God is not going to sanctify ‘sodomy’ any time soon.

New ways of living and loving require new institutions. Or in the words of the famously unmarried Galilee carpenter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wineskins. And keep the flippin’ Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

It needs to be said out loud that full civil unions with the same legal rights and privileges of marriage at both the State and Federal level, supported by President Obama and many Republicans and even some right-wing evangelicals – and the large majority of American voters – are not only much more politically achievable in the US than gay marriage, they are also a better fit for most same sex relationships. What’s more they represent an entirely dignified way of side-stepping this endless, unsightly domestic between liberal and conservative, secular and religious, metropolitan and rural America.

But instead, gay marriage zealots, many of whom admit that they themselves don’t wish to get married, insist on characterising civil unions as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘riding at the back of the bus’. I’d like to think it was merely a ploy to make fully-recognised civil unions more achievable, but many really seem to believe their own shrill propaganda. Worse, they’ve made even more of a fetish of the word ‘marriage’ than the religious right they rail against.

In the UK, where nationally recognised same-sex civil unions with the same legal status as marriage – called civil partnerships – were introduced in 2004 there is little or no appetite now for gay marriage. In my experience few lesbians or gays feel they are ‘riding at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actually riding at the front. It’s probably only a matter of time before gay civil partnerships in the UK are made available to all, as they are in France – where the vast majority of applications are now made by cross-sex couples disenchanted with traditional marriage.

What’s more, fully-recognised, open-to-all civil unions are a fully-fledged secular institution that helps to shore up a fragile secular society. And make no mistake, it is secularism on which most of the – historically very, very recent – freedoms enjoyed by lesbians and gays are based, along with those of women.

But so far the gay marriage crusade in the US doesn’t seem very interested in any of this or lessons it might learn from the experience of other countries. Instead it seems too busy proving itself holier-than-thou. And less sophisticated than Miss America contestants.

Gay Civil Unions Replacing Straight Marriage in France

According to the Daily Telegraph, ninety per cent of French “solidarity pacts” a year, some 135,000 of them, are now being made between people of the opposite sex, ‘despite them being designed for homosexuals, who are not formally allowed to marry in France’.  Unlike in the UK, the Civil Solidarity Pacts, or PACS, are open to everyone, not just same sexers. The Telegraph lists some of the attractions of PACS over marriage.  They

…take just 15 minutes and can be performed by a court clerk.

Just as significantly, they can be ended with a single letter from either partner, without any claims on the other’s money or property.

With divorce costs spiralling such a legal arrangement is particularly attractive to those potentially facing massive payouts if marriages fail.

The PACS provide near-identical financial and administrative protection as formal marriages, including the possibility of providing joint tax returns and enjoying deductions.

French councils also treat PACSed couples like married couples when assigning benefits or accommodation.

The PACS also allow couple to bypass social and Church conventions, many of which are viewed as outdated by younger generations.

This latter consideration should probably be placed rather further up in the list.

Either way this news is yet another indication that the gay American obsession with (politically impossible) marriage rather than (politically achievable) fully-recognised civil unions – ‘riding at the back of the bus!’ – is not just a giant tactical mistake but also culturally retrogressive, rather than the ‘giant leap for progress’ and ‘equality’ it is trumpeted as being by gay marriage zealots.  Marriage seems to be a very dull historical cul de sac that even straight people don’t want to live on any more.

The French trend towards rejecting marriage for civil partnerships/unions also illustrates how unfair it is that British civil partnerships are not open to everyone – just same sex couples.  The reason heterosexuals are denied that option is because when the legislation was being drawn up fears were expressed in Parliament that allowing heteros the choice would ‘undermine marriage’. (Which is rather revealing – even the champions of marriage obviously believe that marriage isn’t very appealing.)

But of course, marriage has undermined itself. Recently released figures in the UK show marriage is the most unpopular it’s ever been and suggest that the unwed will outnumber the wed within a year.

Milk Toast: How Van Sant Cut Off Harvey’s Balls

By Mark Simpson

(Originally appeard on Guardian Unlimited, 28 Jan 2009)

‘If a bullet should enter my brain, let it destroy every closet door.’ So says Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the gay activist who became California’s first openly gay public official. Any concern that this may be a slightly melodramatic statement is quelled of course by the knowledge that Milk was famously killed by a bullet to the head in 1978 by a disgruntled, possibly anti-gay colleague. So instead it becomes an epitaph – and this film’s marketing slogan.

Lauded by critics, laden with no less than 8 Academy Film Award nominations, including Best Film, and Best Actor, lavished with praise from editorials in straight and gay newspapers, director Gus Van Sant’s Milk, recently released in the UK, is, everyone agrees, that avenging ricochet from Harvey’s skull shooting down prejudice, fearfulness and dishonesty.

There’s only one small problem, however. It isn’t. With award-winning hypocrisy, Milk actually bundles Milk’s sexuality out of sight. This movie, far from ‘destroying every closet door’, builds a brand new bullet-proof one around its subject’s sex-life. Milk you see is living a lie.

Harvey Milk, the famously horny middle-aged sexual libertarian in 1970s Free Love San Francisco, who combined cruising and political campaigning – and had a taste for men half his age – is presented in Milk as a serially monogamous chap looking for The One to make house with. True, Harvey is allowed to be a bit flirty, but essentially Harvey is presented to the world as a very domesticated Mary – apart, that is, from his political altruism and desire to battle homophobia which, sadly, stops him settling down into fully-fledged home-making bliss.

Likewise, apart from one safely post-coital moment, Mr Milk is allowed one brief, badly lit, giggly heavy petting scene in his bedroom (the one place where probably no one had sex in 1970s SF) – filmed in long shot from another room. I don’t really have any great interest in seeing Sean Penn shagging in close up (ten or fifteen years ago it would have been a different story), but given the reluctance of the film to acknowledge Milk’s real, radically libidinal lifestyle (you might just call it ‘slutty’) this just seems like more coy emasculation. Come out, come out wherever you are – but only if you’re decent.

Apparently a bathhouse scene was filmed, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. I have no idea whether this was Van Sant’s call or the studio’s, but with that snip Mr Milk was effectively spayed. Many gays and liberals are indignant that Milk didn’t win a Golden Globe this January, but they should be more concerned the movie has no balls.

So why did it happen? Why is the ‘closet-busting’ film about Harvey Milk so fearful of its subject’s own sex-life? His own masculinity? Well, partly because a glossing over of human details, especially in regard to sex, is what becoming a saint usually involves – even a gay one. But probably the main reason why his sexuality has been bundled back in the closet is because that’s exactly what today’s US gay rights campaigners are doing with gay male sexuality itself in their crusade for gay marriage. In order to try and persuade an unconvinced American public to support gay marriage under the rubric of equality, gay male relationships are being presented, rather disingenuously, as ‘just the same’ as male-female ones.

Van Sant and others have even suggested that if Milk had been released earlier it might have helped prevent the passage of Proposition 8 last November, which re-banned gay marriage in California. Personally I think that’s absurdly far-fetched, but the wishful-thinking involved does give you some idea of how Harvey’s actual lived life has been appropriated to current political expediency. Just as the campaign for gay marriage is sometimes more about respectability than equality, Mr Milk’s historical sexuality wasn’t respectable enough for his hagiography. So it was surgically removed.

It’s impossible of course to know what Milk’s own attitude towards gay marriage would be today if he had lived – though whatever you do don’t mention that to the gay marriage zealots who have installed him as their patron Saint – but it’s pretty clear that while he was alive he believed in relationships as open as his closet door:

‘”As homosexuals we can’t depend of the heterosexual model”,’ Randy Shilts quotes him as saying in his biography The Mayor of Castro Street (a book which also documents how many of Milk’s political and community contacts were forged in bathhouses). ‘We grow up with the heterosexual model, but we don’t have to pursue it. We should be developing our own lifestyle. There’s no reason why you can’t love more than one person at a time. You don’t have to love them all the same. You love some more, some less and always be honest about where you’re at. They in turn can do the same thing, and it opens up a bigger sphere”.’

When I tell you that middle-aged Milk was explaining to one 24 year-old lover in San Francisco why he had another even younger one in Los Angeles you may decide you find this view self-serving. You may find it inspiring. You may find it naïve. Or courageous. Or immoral. Or realistic. Or corny.

What’s not debatable however, is that this is how he lived his life and created his politics.

But you won’t find it in Van Sant’s pasteurised Milk.

Marry Me, Ms P – But Civilly

A little late -my brain turns to plum pudding during the festering season – I’d like to flag up a section on gay marriage from the stand-up intellectual Camille Paglia’s December column on Salon.com. Mostly of course because it mentions me in a flattering fashion. (If you find mutual love-fests a little queasy, you may want to look away now….)

Maybe because we’re both incurable Freudians dogmatically wedded to his concept of universal bisexual responsiveness, I consider Paglia a genuinely free thinker. Something all-too rare on the left these days. She is also a powerful, sometimes literally incandescent writer with a mischievous, kinky-booted provocative sense of humour. Sexual Personae indeed. Above all, or perhaps below all, she has big, brass, Italianate balls. I’m in awe of them.

And so, whether they know it or not, are Salon readers – that’s why they line up in their hundreds every month to rail against ‘that crazy bitch’ and, the ultimate insult, apparently, ‘narcissist’ on the letters page and demand she be sacked and paraded in chains through the streets of San Francisco otherwise they’ll tear up their Salon party membership card. Again.

In her column Camille makes the case for civil unions over gay marriage rather better than I do. In fact, my own view was very probably influenced by my eager reading of her barnstorming works back in the early 90s (they certainly helped inspire the dissident collection ‘Anti-Gay’). As she writes in Salon:

My position has always been (as in “No Law in the Arena” in my 1994 book, “Vamps & Tramps”) that government should get out of the marriage business. Marriage is a religious concept that should be defined and administered only by churches. The government, a secular entity, must institute and guarantee civil unions, open to both straight and gay couples and conferring full legal rights and benefits. Liberal heterosexuals who profess support for gay rights should be urged to publicly shun marriage and join gays in the civil union movement.

In their displeasure at the California vote, gay activists have fomented animosity among African-Americans who voted for Proposition 8 and who reject any equivalence between racism and homophobia. Do gays really want to split the Democratic coalition? I completely agree with a hard-hitting piece by the British gay activist Mark Simpson (which was forwarded to me by Glenn Belverio), “Let’s Be Civil: Marriage Isn’t the End of the Rainbow.” Simpson, who has been called “a skinhead Oscar Wilde,” is famous among other things for a riveting 2002 Salon article that put the term “metrosexual” into world circulation. I appreciate Simpson’s candor about how marriage is a very poor fit with the actual open lifestyle of so many gay men, which is far more radical. Marriage may be desirable for some gay men and women, but at what cost? Activists should have focused instead on removing all impediments to equality in civil unions — such as the unjust denial of Social Security benefits to the surviving partner in gay relationships.

(I’m not sure I’m much of a ‘gay activist’, but ‘rivetting’ sounds entirely accurate to me.)

While fully-equivalent civil unions are much more politically achievable in the US than gay marriage, they are being misrepresented as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘riding at the back of the bus’ by gay marriage zealots who seem obsessed with appropriating, or perhaps expropriating, the experience of the black civil rights movement and presenting homosexuals as ‘the new blacks’. In the UK, where nationally recognised same-sex civil unions with the same legal status as marriage, called civil partnerships, were introduced a few years ago there is little or no appetite for gay marriage. Very few lesbians or gays feel they are ‘riding at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actually sitting at the front.

Modern same-sex relationships are a new kind of institution. And so are many if not most of today’s cross-sex relationships. Marriage is an antiquated, failing institution based on inequality, traditional roles and religious sentiment. That’s why it’s seen most as being between ‘a man and a woman’. This isn’t bigotry – it’s tradition. Which is what marriage is. In the words of the Galilee carpenter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wineskins. And keep the fucking Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

What’s more, fully-recognised, fully-equal – and fully open to all – civil unions, would help to shore up our fragile secular society. And make no mistake, it is secularism on which most of the (very recent) freedoms enjoyed by lesbians and gays are based, as well as those of women in general, and also metrosexual man.

Which reminds me: I disagree with Paglia’s continued kicking of Hillary Clinton in the same column – perhaps there’s only room for one ‘ball-breaking’ 60s feminist in American public life – but she more than makes up for this with her plucky defence of spunky Sarah Palin against scolding, univocal liberal snobbery that continues to lash against her and the red-state, rural America that she represents. To do that anywhere in the liberal press would be quite something, but to do it on Salon, which during the election became a kind of spiteful schoolgirlish diary of hatred towards the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate is well-nigh heroic. (Did anyone, anywhere write anything about Joe Biden? Even when he frequently put his ‘expert’ foot in his ‘experienced’ bureaucratic mouth?).

On this occasion, Paglia took umbrage with NYT columnist Dick Cavett’s piece ‘The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla’:

Cavett’s piece on Sarah Palin was insufferably supercilious. With dripping disdain, he sniffed at her “frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences.” He called her “the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High,” “one who seems to have no first language.” I will pass over Cavett’s sniggering dismissal of “soccer moms” as lightweights who should stay far, far away from government.

I was so outraged when I read Cavett’s column that I felt like taking to the air like a Valkyrie and dropping on him at his ocean retreat in Montauk in the chichi Hamptons. How can it be that so many highly educated Americans have so little historical and cultural consciousness that they identify their own native patois as an eternal mark of intelligence, talent and political aptitude?

I love the image of La Paglia taking to the air ‘like a Valkyrie’ and ‘dropping in’ on Cavett in his Montauk retreat. It would be a comically uneven match. Despite an illustrious CV, Cavett’s prose reads as if one of Palin’s bagged, wall-mounted mooseheads had started talking.

I suspect we will wait some time for Cavett’s column defending American English from President Uh-bama’s phony-folksy way of talking when interviewed. Because of course Harvard educated Obama is being condescending, which is just fine, while ‘white trash’ Palin is being who she is, which is completely unforgivable.