Jonah Goldberg

Last Saturday, I hung out with a couple hundred homosexuals.

Despite what some of my crankier e-mailers might think, it was not a typical Saturday for me. I was invited to sit on a panel for the Human Rights Campaign to discuss the ideological split between gays and conservatives.

The event was billed as an honest effort by America's leading gay rights organization to understand the right's sincere objections to aspects of their agenda. The encounter didn't change my mind on many scores, but it did make me appreciate the importance of honesty in an area plagued by euphemisms.

Indeed, one of the first signs that this was an honest exercise was the free use of the phrase "gay agenda" by the organizers. Among liberal elite journalists, references to the "gay agenda" are usually chalked up to "homophobia" or "anti-gay hysteria."

Like the phrase "so-called partial birth abortion," The New York Times and others usually refer to the "so-called `gay agenda'" or "what opponents call the `gay agenda'" because they don't want to concede that such a thing even exists.

This fundamental dishonesty is a hindrance to honest discussion. In much the same way that many black activists tend to accuse conservatives of being racist for offering any objections to the "civil rights" agenda of quotas and preferences, many homosexual activists too often ascribe "homophobia" to anybody who questions gay marriage or the integration of gays into the military.

In other words, an honest conversation is impossible if any criticism is immediately dismissed as bigotry. It often seems that gay activists want some issues -male promiscuity, the nature vs. nurture debate (I think it's both) -to be left undiscussed.

But, I confess, the right has problems of its own. For many conservatives, there's a no-surrender attitude toward anything remotely gay. Some religious conservatives write off gays as abominations with the same gusto that some gays invoke bigotry. But even among more secular conservatives, the right has its own version of "don't ask, don't tell." Conservatives don't see and don't hear.

Take the issue of gay marriage. I'm opposed to gay marriage for solid reasons and a few intangible ones. I think Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe succinctly summed it up recently when he noted that same-sex marriage rewrites the definition of marriage in a fundamental way.

Jacoby writes: "There are three core elements to a legal marriage: It must be a union of (1) two people, (2) of the opposite sex, (3) who are not related." According to this definition and under the law, Jacoby notes, gay people have the same right to marry as everyone else; they just don't want to exercise it.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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