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The gay family

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Dan Savage, who is by far the best advice columnist working, wrote a book about adopting a child with his boyfriend. The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant: An Adoption Story (linked below) is not only remarkable because it has two colons in the title, but also because it offers a great opportunity for social conservatives to cast off their prejudices and appreciate just how wonderful those homos can be.

Here’s the story: There once was a drug-using, alcohol-abusing young woman. She got knocked up and had the kid. Now, who do you want raising this little boy–the mostly homeless young drug addict, or two financially stable, loving parents who have long yearned to raise a child but are unable to have one of their own? Does it matter that both of these parents have penises?

As intolerance of and ignorance about the gay and lesbian community become potentially major issues for the 2004 elections, I can’t imagine that questions such as this will be going away any time soon. Savage wrote about the shocking idea that “gay” and “family” are not antithetical recently in the New York Times:

    Gay groups called for Mr. Santorum’s head, while antigay groups like the Family Research Council, once headed by Gary Bauer, rushed to defend him. But Mr. Santorum needn’t worry about his leadership post. Unlike the former majority leader, Mr. Santorum didn’t slip up and say something in plain English that every good Republican knows must only be said in code. Unlike Republican appeals to racist voters, Republican appeals to homophobic voters are overt. During the 2000 campaign, Alan Keyes appeared on the same stage as George Bush and denounced the “radical homosexual agenda” that he said was destroying the American family. Candidate Bush, now President Bush, failed to respond, even though his running mate’s daughter is a lesbian.

    But gays and lesbians are more than just sons and daughters. We’re moms and dads, too. My boyfriend and I adopted a son five years ago, and we plan to adopt again. As more same-sex couples start families, it’s going to be harder for Republicans like Mr. Santorum to say we are somehow a threat to the American family.

    As much as it may dismay Mr. Santorum and his defenders, there really is no word other than “family” to describe the three people who live in my house. When it comes to marriage rights, gays and lesbians are willing to play semantic games. We will use awkward phrases like “civil union” and “domestic partnership” so long as we can get what our families really need: the rights, responsibilities and safeguards of legal marriage. But two adults who love each other and are raising children together? What are we if not a family? What other word is there for us?

    In our culture, homosexuality is discussed only when it presents a problem — for the armed forces, for closeted gay students in high school, for those who imagine gays are undermining society. Rarely is homosexuality credited with the creation of something positive and lasting. Desire brought my boyfriend and me together. And it’s simple desire that brings most couples, gay or straight, together. Responsibly acted on, this desire is a good thing in and of itself, and it can often lead to other good things. Like strong, healthy families.

I wonder if the issue of gay marriage is going to be like other civil-rights issues. Liberals will argue for it, conservatives will be opposed, but it eventually will happen because enough conservatives will realize there is no danger to it and, besides, it’s just plain wrong to deny people rights simply because they are different.

The position of social conservatives on civil rights for blacks went something like this:

1. I am against civil rights for blacks! Everything is working fine the way it is now. Why change it?

2. Well, okay, maybe they deserve a few more rights, but certainly not as many rights as I.

3. Of COURSE blacks deserve equal rights with everyone else. I’ve always thought that. What an outrage to suggest it should be any other way.

As tiring as it is to imagine, I think the answer is that, yes, the process will look like this. Just fill in the blanks:

1. I am against marriage rights for gays! Everything is working fine the way it is now. Why change it? [I.e., marriage is a “unique,” and therefore exclusive, institution.]

2. Well, okay, maybe they deserve a few more rights, but certainly not as many rights as I. [I.e., “domestic partnership,” as long as it is inferior to heterosexual partner rights in some way.]

3. Of COURSE gays deserve equal marriage rights with everyone else. I’ve always thought that. What an outrage to suggest it should be any other way.

It will be a long, slow process. It took a while for social conservatives to see blacks as people–they were always “other,” and conservatives had a list of fine reasons to distinguish themselves from blacks in a way that justified different rules for different folks.

Right now there is a very large portion of America that simply isn’t familiar with gays. For some Americans, the most significant exposure they have had to the gay community may have been in one of those anti-gay propaganda films or presentations that pop up whenever a ballot measure giving gays equal rights (“special” rights) comes around. You know–one of those films or speeches that focuses on fists going up anuses, so as to define the entire gay community by shocking sexual practices.

A lot of Americans, especially in the red states, simply don’t see homos from day to day, so they are easily manipulated by the propaganda of the Christian Right and other extremist groups. They don’t see that there is a great sense of “family” in the gay community. They don’t walk down Santa Monica Boulvard in West Hollywood and see gays interacting with everyone else in the community, and the world somehow doesn’t stop turning. They don’t have gay couples at their dinner parties. They don’t see gay couples with children. So their imaginations are almost all they have–and the Christian Right is all too willing to fill that void with hateful propaganda.

When you never see a gay person, and your minister tells you the “homosexual agenda” involves corrupting your kids and shoving fists up their anuses, probably the idea of “gay marriage” sounds a tad frightening.

Still, this can only work for so long. Frightening stereotypes about blacks, and outrageous predictions about what would happen if they were given equal rights, only worked for so long. Because reality, that old antagonist of prejudice, was always there, and eventually it becomes impossible to deny reality. Eventually it will be impossible to deny the reality that gays have families, too, and that a world in which gays have status as equals wouldn’t be disastrous–in fact, it would be a better world, because there would be one less injustice in it.

Meanwhile, social conservatives, let the specious distinctions and twisted justifications fly. Their time is limited. I guess you should enjoy them while you can.

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About Brian Flemming

  • Oh, and thanks to Phillip Winn for the pointer to the NY Times story. Forgot to acknowledge that.