In a piece posted Friday on National Review Online, the Family Research Council‘s Jayd Henricks finds it significant that “Homosexual groups frequently advertise pro-abortion events on their websites and publications, and abortion groups often support activities promoting homosexual causes.” I find it significant that he uses the word “homosexual” to describe gay men and lesbians. It shows that he sees us only in a sexual light. He can’t bring himself to understand that maybe gay men and lesbians seek some of the same things social conservatives seek, including long-term monogamous relationships. Only we seek such relationships with individuals of the same-sex while he (and most people) seek relationships with individuals of the opposite sex.
Henricks makes much of HRC‘s appointment of former EMILY’s List CEO Joe Solmonese as its new president as EMILY’s list, a PAC whose purpose is to elect (as he puts it) “women abortion advocates to public office.” He asks why this “unlikely coalition” between “a population that by definition does not procreate” and groups which advocate “the ‘right’ to end a pregnancy” came together. Without apparently talking to any “homosexuals,” Mr. Henricks answers his own question: “Homosexuals are often strong advocates of abortion not because they need access to it but because homosexual activists are driven by the same philosophy that drives abortion rights: sex without restrictions or consequences.” No wonder he has to call us homosexuals. He thinks the only thing driving us is the pursuit of sex.
Indeed, he believe it’s “critical to recognize the ideology of absolute sexual license that drives and unites abortion and same-sex-marriage advocates.” Whoah! Now, I have faulted same-sex-marraige advocates for not talking about marriage as most Americans talk about the institution, for failing to use “such words as ‘values,’ ‘commitment’ and ‘responsibility.’” I have said repeatedly that we need to talk about monogamy an essential aspect of marriage (here for example). But, when Mr. Henricks claims same-sex-marriage advocates favor “absolute sexual license,” he becomes like Frank Rich writing about conservatives, defining his ideological adversaries by the opinions and prejudices of his ideological allies.
I may fault the strategy of the advocates of same-sex marriage, but I’ve talked to enough of them to know that, by and large, they do not favor same-sex unions as a means to promote sexual license. Indeed, as long ago as 1989, in perhaps the first serious essay on gay marriage in a non-gay national publication, Andrew Sullivan linked gay marriage to responsibility. In his book on gay marriage, Jonathan Rauch sees same-sex marriage as a “domesticating” institution, promoting responsible behavior among gays.
It’s too bad that Mr. Henricks didn’t take the time to understand the advocates he so derides while leaping to absurd conclusions about their agenda. His piece thus becomes just another example of the narrow-minded social conservative narrative on gays. He, like so many others on the far right, including a number whom I have confronted directly, believe that once we come out and identify ourselves as gay all we want to do is engage in wild and crazy sex without consequence.
To be sure, there is a significant segment of the gay male population that favors such a “lifestyle.” (Indeed, I have even come across a web-site that promotes “sexual license” (as Mr. Henricks would put it) among lesbians.) It’s absurd for him to define the entire gay world by just one portion of our population. It’s too bad he didn’t listen in to the conversation I had joined yesterday with other gay guests at the barbecue I attended. He would have seen a vision of gay attitudes toward sex that differed from his prejudices.
Indeed, the guys at the party had a variety of different attitudes toward sex. The (gay) couple hosting the event is monogamous. One guest was not disturbed that his one-night stands led nowhere while another guest regretted that his “hookups” rarely led to relationships, or even friendship. He–and others–recognized the need to place restrictions on our sexual behavior so we might better build real–and lasting–relationships. Most there sought more than a string of meaningless hookups. We were not driven by some “ideology of sexual license.”
Mr. Henricks may believe that there is one “gay lifestyle,” but last night’s conversation showed that there are many. He–and so many of his allies on the far right–persist with their narrative of this singular lifestyle because it makes it easier to dismiss us, easier for them to marginalize us and easier for them to belittle us.
Despite his narrow belief that an “ideology of sexual license” drives many gays, Mr. Henricks says some things about sexuality that many gay people already know–and others should take note of:
Sex provides physical pleasure but it also is a profound gift to the individual that comes with responsibility. Sex does have consequences that place some restrictions on sexual activity. The restrictions, however, are not limiting but rather put sex within a context that is natural and healthy for both the individual and society. Without this foundation of human sexuality, sex becomes nothing other than the pursuit of personal gratification.
To be sure, Mr. Henricks notes that the natural purpose of sexuality is procreation, but if he used his imagination, he would see how gay people could restrict our own sexual appetites and so reaffirm, what he terms, “the dignity and responsibility of sex.” He’s right to say that restrictions on sex are healthy for the individual and society. (Andrew Sullivan said something similar in his 1989 article.) But, such restrictions should not preclude an entire class of people from acting on our sexual desires. They should merely serve to help us define how we act on them.
We need to challenge Mr. Henricks–and his allies on the extreme right. Perhaps, we should the very words they use to define responsible heterosexuality to put forward our vision of responsible homosexuality. Yes, we acknowledge that many gay people, just as many heterosexuals, celebrate sexual license. But, we must also make clear that they represent only one part of our community. (Just as those who enjoy Larry Flynt’s publications represent only one part of the “straight community.”)
Many gay men and lesbians seek the same sorts of things Mr. Henricks–and his ideological allies–seek. We often place restrictions on our own sexual activity and strive to make sex more than just an act of physical gratification. As long as he remains in his social conservative cocoon, he will, however, remain blind to the diversity of gay and lesbian “lifestyles.” Blind to those of us who strive to lead ethical gay lives.
That said, his narrow-minded narrative of the agenda of what he terms “homosexual interest groups” should serve as a reminder to us that we need to do more than talk about rights, we also need to talk about responsibilities. Those who advocate gay marriage must make clear that they understand that the institution places restrictions on the sexual life of each partner. We also need to talk about how monogamy helps build a spiritual understanding between faithful partners.
Mr. Henricks is right that there should be more to sex than personal gratification. He’s wrong to suggest that gay people are only interested in such gratification and are incapable of restricting their sexual appetites. We too seek lifelong commitments. We too value monogamy. We too recognize the benefits of placing limitations on our sexual behavior. We too are capable of affirming the dignity and responsibility of sex.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com