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Monday, July 11, 2005

A Variant of Normal, Elevated to Respectability

To be good, according to the vulgar standard of goodness, is obviously quite easy. It merely requires a certain amount of sordid terror, a certain lack of imaginative thought, and a certain low passion for middle-class respectability.
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, 1891

When did the ‘Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name’ become the Love that cannot shut up about itself?

Is Hillary Clinton a Lesbian? Is Tom Cruise gay? Can these liberal icons even sue for slander, given that being gay is so politically correct it is assumed to be beneficial – ergo, what is the necessary derogation involved in a slander, even if it isn’t true? Is that perhaps why we haven’t seen more court cases over ‘outing’?

I freely admit that I come from a time when gay meant cheerful. Sodomites, as we called them then, certainly existed and many were socially received – but they were expected to be discreet in their relationships, as were heterosexuals, also known as normal men. Only a cad would speak of carnal relations with his wedded wife, but only a beast would speak openly about bedding a person who was not. It made for more discussion of politics and livestock, sharper innuendo in comedies, and genuinely scandalous and wicked conversation in private over a bottle of port when the ladies had left the room. But I reminisce.

Now, from the Vice-President’s daughter to the barkeep at the Provincetown Ferry, everyone is aggressively ‘out’, and mad for their rights. The right not to listen, or be unconcerned with the sexuality of your dentist, has been lost, as have many facets of the Right to Be Let Alone. Resignedly, we may as well accept it as payback for fifty-odd years of lithe young women draped over automobiles as Madison Avenue chanted the zombie mantra of ‘Sex Sells’. By destroying decorum in public conversation, they have made appropriate the once unmentionable.

In 1989, Florence King wrote, “For men who want to flee Family Man America and never come back, there is a guaranteed solution: homosexuality is the new French Foreign Legion.” Yet now this faraway frontier seeks to drape itself in the cloying respectability of the Eisenhower era – is this anything for a new thrill? Whence this passion for middle-class respectability, the strident emphases on being considered just a variant of normal (of course, if you are a variant, you do leave the norm, but this is not a rational discussion, but an emotional one)? As a great victory for Respectability, here in Massachusetts, the first legally recognized homosexual marriages took place over a year ago, and the anniversary parties in Provincetown were touching and infuriating, depending upon how the issue strikes you. Because of this division, the ensuing political battle is still being waged.

How I laugh as I picture the red-faced, spitting, inchoate Sage of Quincy, as John Adams views how the Supreme Judicial court interprets his precious Massachusetts Constitution. He freely bragged that it served as the model for the United States Constitution, and indeed it is a well worn document, the oldest in continual use. The Court said that because there was no express prohibition of homosexual marriage, there was no reason for Town Clerks to fail to issue such marriage licenses. Of course, Adams didn’t write about nuclear defenses or aviation either, but the Court sees no problem with regulating them. But the Court was just – it said that the Legislature was free to act, it simply hadn’t bothered. In this, the decision was entirely fair.

For five years, Senate President Birmingham gaveled a Constitutional Convention to order, with a Massachusetts Defense of Marriage (DOMA) calendar item, similar to those passed on 30 other states and based on a petition signed by 10,000 registered voters, only to adjourn it immediately, smug in the knowledge that he was keeping the cork in the bottle on behalf of the gay rights lobby. The fact that so many citizens – pro and con – wanted to have a vote on this matter was irrelevant from the heights of Beacon Hill, natural habitat of Those Who Know Better and Best. The Court Decision smashed this all to smithereens, created riots in staid hallways, and cannibalized an entire Session of Legislative business important to the 90% of residents who were not gay. It is a testimony to the political wisdom of a single party junta that they could not conceive that, eventually, the will of the people might actually become part of the discussion.

A Hobson’s choice was created for the voters in the last legislative Session. Not content with forestalling the mere electorate for years, the Legislature changed the wording of the DOMA sponsored by Rep. Travis. The question to be put before the people will be (and this is a collaboration to make the blood run cold) the Traviglini-Finneran Amendment – Is marriage between a man and a woman, and shall civil unions be created? Rep. Travis’ original choice, a straight (no pun intended) assertion that marriage is between a man and a woman and no other relationship will be legally recognized, will not be offered. Ironically, gay rights advocates who would have been clicking their heels at accomplishing civil unions five years ago now assert that this is compromise language is not enough, that nothing short of full-fledged marriage is acceptable. Birmingham has a lot to answer for. In response to this, a new group has begun to gather signatures to put the original choice back on the ballot. There is no guidance from the Court as to what would happen if they both pass, and are both ratified by the voters.

As always, the Porcupine has the solution to this and other problems – but I am rarely asked, being dead and all. The solution is not to define marriage, it is to eliminate a state definition of it.

Homosexuals have a valid complaint that they cannot leave property, visit in a hospital and so on. Even the tenuous legal bridges that they build can be broken in court. The only thing that magically changes your partner to your legal next-of-kin is a marriage license. Every marriage has two parts. The one paid attention to is ceremony – rings, flowers, vows, and so on. Yet the second part is the only one which the State has any valid interest in – the signing of the license by the principles and witnesses and the legal registration of the couple. Why must that be called marriage?

Rather than amend the Constitution, amend Mass. General Laws, Chapter 25, and strike the word ‘marriage’ and replace it with ‘registered union’. We don’t have laws about communion or confirmation ceremonies, so why should we have laws about marriages? Authority for marriages would then revert to clerical authorities, where they belong (along with religious divorces). Regardless of sexual persuasion, you would register your union, and celebrate a ceremony called ‘marriage’ – or not - in your own way. You would be invested with legal protection, yet ‘marriage’ – which is a touchstone for so much apprehension – would remain a matter of religion.

Whether you think we are the most moral or immoral state in the nation, we have kept one piece of our Brahmin legacy intact – we are certainly the most Respectable one, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And so on." As I am sure you are not writing these words with the help of a Ouija board, I assume you are a heterosexual with either a husband or a wife. You, like so many, take for granted the rights you have. You so flippantly cast aside precious rights:

"Homosexuals have a valid complaint that they cannot leave property, visit in a hospital and so on."

I am a homosexual and I do not throw it in people's faces. What my partner and I do in private is private. I have been gay my whole life and I honestly cannot see what sharing the same rights you heterosexuals have is so horrifying and difficult for you.

You speak of the original authors of the Constitution. Yes, homosexuality was not a thought of theirs (ya, right, I'm sure they were all as straight as you). They penned the Constitution to protect their land--their property. They also did not mention their wives (yes, the people they were MARRIED to), their daughters--heck, women in general. Oh, and they owned slaves. And they weren't too concerned with upholding the religious rights of others including their slaves and the Native Americans they treated so nicely.

I could go on and on. But I won't. I just don't see why it is such a big deal. But I guess when you are part of a minority you naturally accept other minorities. And guess what, you, are becoming a minority, slowly, but surely.

So this homosexual is indeed signing this comment anonymously, because I'm afraid if you knew, you'd look at me differently from now on.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Peter Porcupine said...

I used the phrase 'and so on' to indicate that there is a long litany of benefits which have accrued to the married - inheritace, taxes, property ownership - which you and your partner should be legally entitled to. I support your claim to equal legal rights.

You have made my point when you try to judge the authors of the Consitution by the standards of a subsequent age. Your description of the treatment of women, slaves, et al, is accurate - which is why the failure of the Founders to include homosexual rights at a time when such behavious was cause for hanging is so - well - foolish.

I am fascinatted by the raw emotion on both sides surrounding the word 'marriage' and the rush to respectability by the formerly footloose gay community. I stand my my assertion that 'marriage' per se should be placed beyond the purview of pandering legislators, and be returned to ecclesiastical authorities.

And how dare you, sirrah, imply that you know my proclivities? This is a wide world, and it always surprises you.

10:57 PM  

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