Friday, May 29, 2015

Gay marriage and parenthood triangulate the cultural war

I can recall a radio interview with George McGovern back in early 1972, when, for all his “liberalism”, the South Dakota senator warned that campaigning on “legalization of marijuana” and “legalization of marriage between homosexuals” could “dive the Democrats to defeat”.
Now, the unexpectedly quickly progress of acceptance gay marriage (along with the numbers of gay parents and same-sex couples raising kids) in most western countries and many states, after any judicial prodding at all under equal protection, triangulates the cultural war.  There are three points in equilibrium, not just two sides. 
It used to be that homosexuality, especially in men, was viewed as a proxy for character-related failure of gender socialization, and for  the ability to participate “properly” as a member of the community rather than following one’s own ends.  That sort of idea fueled many conservative arguments against even tolerating homosexuality in the past, which had peaked in the late 1950s under McCarthyism and then roared back for a couple of years in the 80s because of AIDS in some areas of the country.
Writers like George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986, and the earlier “Sexual Suicide”, 1973) had argued that most men only find real purpose in life when they become fathers within marriage.  Pornography, certainly more conspicuous in the straight world than gay (just look at Times Square in the early 70s) was viewed as evidence of character short-circuiting.  But there were only two sides to the issue then.
With the acceptance of not only gay marriage but of same-sex headed families (which have always existed) there’s a new expectation on the horizon.  A man can marry another man and they can spend the rest of their lives together.  They can be expected to remain passionate, even as they age and become less “attractive”, or, more seriously, if misfortune falls one of them.  With the end of DADT, the possibility that one serves openly and then returns as a wounded or maimed veteran, and stays with a partner, and even continues raising children, increases.  I know that, early in life, my presence in closer quarters was seen as distracting to the self-confidence of heterosexual men.
Would I have been able to pursue such a life if I had been born 50 years later?  Maybe that’s a meaningless question.  That sort of opportunity did not exist for me when I was coming of age.  I was expected to be aggressive and protective in a way comporting to gender.  That stopped everything.  So  made a separate peace, in a separate universe fantasy world, of perfection, or angels.  I became a persistent form of competition for the “conventional”.  But I found out, with my own eldercare experience, that family responsibility doesn't need sexual intercourse to come about.

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