In current debates over gay relationships and their position in society, we’ve moved beyond a plea for acceptance and equality to an increasingly strident claim of homosexual superiority and a demand for special status and endorsement.
In a recent syndicated column about Pastor Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals who confessed to a three year affair with a gay, drug-dealing prostitute, Ellen Goodman wrote of “people who heard a man wounded by the culture of demonization. Their sympathy was for a man primed for repression and deception by the teaching of homosexuality as a sin… More gays, more friends, families, co-workers have come to believe that gayness is not a choice, let alone a sin.”
In other words, some tender-hearted Americans feel ready to forgive, even to embrace, a religious leader who routinely paid a sex-for-hire hustler to cheat in a Denver hotel room on his wife and five kids while getting high on illegal and dangerous methamphetamines. Try to imagine that Haggard had engaged in his extra-marital adventures with a female hooker, rather than a middle-aged call boy. Would anyone have come forward to express “sympathy” for the man or to view him as a sad victim of “repression”?
By the same token, former New Jersey governor James McGreevy recently wrote a best-selling book called “Confession,” describing his risky and degrading encounters in men’s rooms and back alleys. He even spoke of inviting his male lover (placed on the state payroll despite a total absence of qualifications) into his marital bed in the governor’s mansion while his wife struggled in the hospital with a troubled pregnancy. Oprah Winfrey (and others) now hail McGreevy for his “courage” in speaking so openly and proudly of his newly-discovered status as a “gay American.” Would any public figure receive similarly indulgent treatment after confessing serial infidelity with a member of the opposite sex?
Finally, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, made headlines as the first openly gay clergyman to reach such a leadership position in his denomination. The media paid little attention, however, to the fact that Bishop Robinson (who is currently undergoing rehab treatment for alcoholism) had initially embraced his gay identity when he left his wife and three children for a relationship with another man. Would the Episcopal Church or any other significant religious body so readily grant a position of spiritual leadership to a priest who had abandoned his family for an extra-marital affair with a partner of the opposite sex?
In high profile cases, in other words, we seem far more willing to forgive and forget faithless behavior if that infidelity involves a homosexual connection. This amounts to the granting of a special dispensation, a privileged position, to same sex attraction—giving more latitude to gay relationships than we’d ever grant to straight romances. The justification for this attitude involves the notion that gay men who leave or destroy their families for the sake of homosexual affairs are simply discovering, at long last, their true identities after years of repression– coming to terms with “who they really are.”
But what about those aging heterosexuals who may also suddenly discover-- at age sixty, say—that they’ve been repressing their true identities? Couldn’t they also argue that it seemed suddenly inauthentic to remain trapped with a sagging partner of similar age, when a powerful, undeniable inner voice and the evolutionary imperative demanded they connect with nubile twenty-somethings eager for experienced and wealthy companionship?
In fact, every study of human sexuality would suggest that far more men feel tempted to heed their deep-seated, undeniable authentic desires to cheat with other (particularly younger) women than feel drawn into relationships with other men. Does this greater incidence of heterosexual temptation make it more – or less- “natural” and worthy of respect than homosexual impulses? The tendency to forgive, or even endorse, same sex attractions while condemning the vastly more common opposite gender desires, amounts to the granting of a preferential position to homosexuality.
One of the most common arguments for gay marriage also carries with it the implicit assumption that gay relationships count as inherently superior, more durable and more meaningful than their straight counterparts. Andrew Sullivan and many others advocate governmental endorsement of same sex marriage as a means of encouraging more responsible, monogamous behavior on the part of gay males, with their acknowledged tendencies toward promiscuity as part of the notorious and dysfunctional “bath house-and-leather bars” culture. In other words, all that homosexual guys need in order to give up lives of often reckless recreational sex is the right to a wedding license and a traditional marriage.
But the advocates of same-sex matrimony fail to explain why the institutions and practices which they believe will work so well in solidifying relationships in their community have failed to function with similar effectiveness for heterosexuals. Gay rights advocates find themselves in the odd position of arguing that legally sanctioned marriage will work better at improving and enhancing homosexual intimacy than it has in strengthening the straight partnerships for which it was designed. In fact, champions of marital redefinition love citing the baleful example of Britney Spears, asking why the pop star should be entitled to two brief, failed, ill-considered marriages, while more responsible and mature gay people can’t win approval for even one. Critics of the status quo also deride those of us who say we’re trying to defend traditional marriage –pointing out that the high divorce and infidelity rate makes it questionable whether this old concept of matrimony is even worth defending.
Yet these same gay rights activists continue to claim that the same institution that has failed to uplift or preserve the relationships of so many heterosexuals, will work magically to enrich the lives of gays. The assumption behind these contradictory arguments seems to be that homosexual relationships are somehow inherently more worthy, conscious, generous, mature and capable of refinement by marital institutions than their unthinking, straight equivalents.
The idea of special recognition for gays and lesbians also applies to the efforts to grant homosexuals “protected status” as part of our civil rights and hate crimes legislation. No one would ever advance the idea that other common sexual behaviors based on deep-seated urges – such as chronic womanizing, or nymphomania, or obsessive addiction to pornography, or masochism – deserved governmental defense against discrimination or expressions of disapproval.
As the national argument continues to rage regarding the proper social and governmental response to homosexuality, some of the advocates for radical change have unobtrusively but unmistakably shifted their campaign from a request for equal treatment to an assertion of innate superiority. They demand for gay impulses not the same treatment accorded to heterosexual desires, but far greater latitude and acceptance, along with uniquely privileged social sanction and legal endorsement.
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