Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gay marriage and family values: an op-ed gets quite blunt

Today (June 22) the Sunday Washington Times offers on op-ed by Jeffrey Kuhner (a regular columnist) on p B3, titled “Marriage Madness.” The link is here.

Some people may perceive this piece as a rant, and it starts out with the usual arguments about judicial activism and gay marriage (after a baroque preamble about Toynbee and the self-destruction of civilization). Kuhner has faith that “direct democracy” in California this fall will support his views, which is no sure thing in practice because it seems like gay marriage right now is good for California’s floundering economy. (He claims 55% support for the initiative right now.) But then his tone turns brutal, and perhaps that’s refreshing, or at least necessary. He says that the issue of same-sex marriage “concerns defending the basic institution of society: the family.” Okay. We hear that all the time. Later he criticizes the super-rationalism of the Western sexual revolution as aimed “to privatize morality, to remove traditional moral constraints, such as duty, family and responsibility.” He gets more blunt when he writes “Homosexuality is also a form of destructive sexual behavior.” And later be invokes the notion of bad karma and lack of sustainability: "a society of homosexuals cannot perpetuate itself...." That is, in his moral thinking, we are individually responsible for the collective implications of our personal behavior (whether or not our inclinations are "chosen"). Yet, early on, he refers to the relationship of the nuclear family and "bourgeois moral order" and therein he seems to generate an internal contradiction in his own mind.

However, soon he gets to the smoldering old argument that is indeed most unpleasant, what others call “demographic winter” (particularly for western Europe, although this may be changing in fact). He writes “same-sex marriage is an oxymoron. Marriage is about having children and reproducing – one generation transmitted to the next. The crisis of our age is that we no longer understand this – or care to.”

I certainly get where this come from, but my ultimate concern is that it defines me as a second-class citizen. If differential sacrifice is needed, it should come from me, because I have not taken on the special responsibility (and taking the genetic risk) of providing human beings for the next generation. (Perhaps that is related to the harsh fact that as a teenager I did not see myself as "competitive" enough with other men to marry.) That potential stepdown logically follows from what he says. It seems that I lack the emotional receptors to make me welcome the “non-rational” intimate contact from others (the opposite sex) necessary to focus on starting and raising a family. Some of us are wired very differently. Lions and tigers are almost the same genetically, but wired differently and therefore have very different social behaviors and “family values”. (No wonder that I love big cats.) Andy Warhol, in a mid 70s book on his philosophy, wrote that he lacked “responsibility hormones” and “reproduction hormones.” You see how this takes on a moral edge. Philip Longman ("The Empty Cradle", 2004) has written that today's "me generation" is too self-absorbed to be interested in having and raising children! There is no escape from it, other than accepting psychological diversity is good for a population as a whole.

One can propose that, to have equal rights, one must be willing to invest in the next generation (and provide care for the past, which is itself a bigger problem with longer lives and fewer babies). In this line of thinking, those who will not invest themselves in the emotions of intergenerational responsibility should not be seen or heard from, but simply exist within a family hierarchy. But accepting gay marriage and gay adoption could actually help encourage the sharing of family responsibility.

Last night, PBS aired a one hour film “The Great Pink Scare” (reviewed on my movies blog) that depicted a government witchhunt for gay college professors, carried out by opening the mails back in 1960 – carried out, ironically it seems now, in Massachusetts. The film got close to the mark, but didn’t quite say what really drove the incredible ostracism that homosexuals faced in previous generations. That is to say, gay men were seen as a threat to the public emotional climate that many men seem to need to marry, become fathers, and stay with their families.

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