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Heterosexuality: A Romance of the Right


Michael Bronski

Imagine

my appalled surprise when I discovered that I was quoted as a "radical

advocate of same-sex marriage" in, of all places, this month’s Commentary

– the last place where I expect to be noticed. Also – and this is a telling

detail – I am not particularly an advocate of same-sex marriage. In fact, most

of what I have written about the topic is harshly critical. This was my first

hint that Stanley N. Kurtz article "What is Wrong With Gay Marriage"

was less than informative or illuminating. Kurtz, an adjunct senior fellow at

the conservative Hudson Institute, takes what he proclaims to be a bold and

startling stand: he is against same-sex marriage. Of course, one wouldn’t expect

Commentary, that bulwark of radical neo-con politick, to be for same-sex

marriage, but Kurtz’s comments are so extremely off-base and cracked that it is

shocking the that usually more, well, prudent editors at Commentary allowed them

go through.

Kurtz’s

preeminent point is that while the majority of "the American public opposes

same-sex marriage…this opposition, through real, is, by and large,

silent." He then goes on to argue that this silence is being enforced on

the majority by a "relatively small group of deeply committed

partisans" – gay activists "supported by the cultural elite,

including the mainstream media." And then to make matters worse, the

proponents of same-sex marriage, particularly Andrew Sullivan, formerly editor

of The New Republic, have sneakily reformed their argument from arguing that gay

marriage would make the institution of marriage stronger, to now claiming it as

a civil and human right. An argument, Kurtz notes that leads straight to

polygamy.

But

in the long run these complaints are all expendable because the real

reason

that same-sex marriage is bad is because marriage was founded and must exist so

that women (who nest by instinct) will domesticate men (who are, at heart,

sexual adventurers.) But might this not also work for gay men? No way! For the

social and emotional institution of marriage is foundational heterosexual

because "the complementarity of the sexes lives on and will not be

eradicated”. Did you know that "the woman who pulls down a six figure

salary still waits for a man to call for a date," and the woman who

"comfortably commands men at the office still waits for a man to open the

door for he?"

The

intellectual poverty of Kurtz’s article gleams through every sentence like

cheap, silvery thread in a bridal gown. The American print and electronic news

media – particularly on-line news magazines, polls and letters – has

presented a varied and lively debate on same-sex marriage. Has Kurtz read Time,

Salon, or Newsweek lately? Not only have they covered a wide array of same-sex

marriage issues – the "Take Back Vermont" backlash against the

state’s new Civil Union law, debates about whether society columns should print

notices of same-sex commitment ceremonies, concerns over whether civil unions

and the possibility of future same-sex marriage would endanger already existing

domestic partnership laws – but editorials in both mainstream and alternative

press have offered a panoply of opinions both pro and con.

Perhaps

more disturbing is that his imagined phantom cabal of gay activists and the

"cultural elite" specifically recalls the anti-Semitic slurs aimed at

a mythical notions of the illusionary social and economic power of Jews

(something that Commentary has addressed fruitfully in the past). And as for

changing arguments – well, complex, complicated social arguments do change

over time, and guess what? It’s possible to make both a social and a moral

argument at the same time: was Dr. Martin Luther King ever accused of confusing

the two?

But

Kurtz betrays his moral bluff – and his supposed ethically superior hand –

when he begins to describe why heterosexuals need marriage. His view of men and

male sexuality is based on assumptions that belong more rightly in an early

feminist Victorian social purity campaign. Skulking around in his "quest

for sexual conquest" Kurtz’s emblematic heterosexual man is a bounder and a

ratter who needs the love of a good woman to domesticate him in legal marriage.

Always even-tempered in his acknowledgment of reality Kurtz also approves of

divorce laws that are "typically much harder on men as the ‘naturally’

promiscuous partners than on women?" But it is Kurtz’s view of

heterosexuality itself that is the most disheartening aspect of his arguments. A

complex web of emotional dependency and sexual avarice, veiled threats, and

curiously playful mind-fucks, his vision of heterosexual relationships is a

cross between the plot of a bad 1950s Joan Crawford movie, Desert Storm, and a

John Waters lampoon of straight people.

One

wonders what world Kurtz lives in that these grotesqueries can be passed off as

reality. Is this what the right really thinks of heterosexual relationships?

This is not an idle question. For while Kurtz’s language and examples are

over-the-top (even in the context of Commentary) there is a grain of truth in

them. For all of the Christian and political right’s attacks on second-wave

feminism for making women victims and portraying men as brutish aggressors,

these stereotypes are, at heart, the basis for their heterosexual ideology. From

Pat Buchanan to Dr. Laura, Lynn Chaney to Pat Robertson the ideal of

"normal" heterosexuality is one deeply rooted in negative and

dysfunctional gender roles. This is an insult to the lives of women and men

struggling hard to lead moral, fruitful, ethical, and happy relationships.

Marriage has, and will continue, to carry a variety of meanings for different

groups and over time. Let us hope that Kurtz’s meaning is not held by many

people.

For

myself I have one deep regret. Kurtz’s quotes from me are from my 1998 book The

Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash and the Struggle for Gay Freedom and he never

once mentions the title. For a writer eager to sell books, this is the

unforgivable sin. One would have thought that Commentary with their deep

commitment to free markets and capitalism would have been more accommodating,

even to a same-sexer like me.

 

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