First published at 365gay.com on October 29, 2007

It wasn’t the first time an audience defied expectations. This time it was in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. I was there with Glenn Stanton, my “debate buddy” from Focus on the Family, to discuss same-sex marriage. The only thing we knew about Rhinelander before arriving was that its number one cause of death is bar-room brawls—or so we had been told by several Wisconsinites, who warned us of the small town’s “redneck” reputation.

“Bar-room brawls?” Glenn joked. “I suppose that has heterosexuality written all over it.”

“Oh, we gays have them too,” I responded. “We just call them ‘hissy-fits.’”

Unlike most of our university debates, the Rhinelander event was advertised primarily to local residents, rather than students, and when we arrived we noticed lots of gray hair in the audience. An older crowd in a redneck town—Glenn’s territory. I braced myself.

Then the Q&A began, and one audience member after another attacked Glenn. I kept waiting for a critical question directed at me. Nothing.

After about an hour of Glenn’s getting grilled while I fielded softballs, I turned to him and announced, “Well, Glenn, this has been exactly the right-wing audience we expected in rural Wisconsin!” The audience howled with laughter.

“Are you sure they didn’t bus you guys in from Madison?” Glenn quipped back. I could tell that he was weary and that he appreciated the lighthearted moment.

The following week we debated again in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the same thing happened. I found myself wanting to stand up and shout, “This is the deep South, people. You’re supposed to be on HIS SIDE!”

It’s not that I’m complaining. I do these debates to convince people. Not to convince Glenn (although I’d like to think my time with him has had a positive effect). And not to convince ideologues, who have made up their minds and won’t budge no matter what. I do them to convince the fence sitters—folks who show up curious about the issue, eager to listen, willing to engage arguments. So when people agree with me, I should be happy, and I am.

But…

But there are plenty of people who don’t agree with me. One merely has to look at voting patterns to realize this. Last November, Wisconsin voters passed an anti-gay marriage amendment 59-41%—and much of that majority came from more liberal towns than Rhinelander. Even college students are far from unanimous in supporting marriage equality. Which means that opponents are either not showing up, or not speaking up, at our debate events. Either way, I miss the opportunity to engage them.

Such engagement would have two potential benefits. First, it might help convince the opponents themselves—even if slowly and gradually. Second, it might help convince the fence-sitters who are watching, since they would receive “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error” (in the words of the great liberal theorist John Stuart Mill). The more we confront the opposition head-on, the more obvious their fallacies become. That’s why I’m willing to travel the country with someone from Focus on the Family addressing the same bad arguments over and over again.

It was the hope for such engagement that led me to interrupt the Q&A in Baton Rouge to plead for some audience opposition. “Any critical questions for me? Please?” I asked no fewer than three times. It felt like announcing “last call” at the bar: “Last call…last call for traditionalists…” Finally, a woman took me up on my challenge—sort of:

“I’m a religious conservative,” she began gently. “And I appreciate your kindness to Glenn and to us. But I haven’t spoken up because I feel a lot of hostility from the audience. I think more of us would show up and speak up if we didn’t feel like we would automatically be shouted down.” She didn’t offer any question—just that observation.

I was both impressed and surprised—impressed by her courage in speaking against the (immediate) tide, and surprised that she found the audience hostile. I could recall no anger or viciousness from the various questioners. But since they were on my side, perhaps I simply failed to notice.

Her remarks spotlighted an important distinction: it’s one thing to silence your opponents; it’s quite another to convince them. And sometimes—perhaps often—silencing is done at the expense of convincing.

The social pressure that makes certain views “taboo” has its uses. But political reality indicates that it’s not yet time to halt the conversation over same-sex marriage—certainly not in Rhinelander or Baton Rouge. Strange as it sounds, we may sometimes need to work at making people more comfortable—not less—in voicing their opposition to us.

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First published at 365gay.com on September 17, 2007

David Blankenhorn is the kind of same-sex marriage opponent you might consider inviting to your (gay) wedding.

I’m not saying you should. After all, in his books, articles and talks, Blankenhorn has defended the position that same-sex marriage weakens a valuable institution. So when your minister intones “If anyone here has any objections to this union…” all eyes would be on him.

But Blankenhorn is virtually unique among same-sex marriage opponents in his insistence on “the equal dignity of homosexual love.” He has stated this belief repeatedly in his talks, particularly those to conservative audiences. And he stated it again recently in an online “bloggingheads” discussion with same-sex marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch. Despite his ultimate opposition, Blankenhorn concedes that there are a number of strong reasons for supporting same-sex marriage, not least being our equal worth.

This is an unusual, refreshing, and significant concession.

Before you call me an Uncle Tom—excited about crumbs from the table rather than demanding my rightful place at it—let me be clear.

I think Blankenhorn is dead wrong in his opposition to same-sex marriage. In particular, his argument is marked by some serious fallacies:

(1) The leap from “Most people who want to dethrone marriage from its privileged position support same-sex marriage” to “Most same-sex-marriage supporters want to dethrone marriage from its privileged position.” That’s like moving from “Most professional basketball players are tall” to “Most tall people are professional basketball players.” In fact, most couples who want same-sex marriage do so precisely because they recognize marriage’s special status.

(2) The leap from “Same-sex-marriage support correlates with ‘marriage-weakening behaviors’ (non-marital cohabitation, single-parent childrearing, divorce)” to “Same-sex marriage should be opposed.” Putting aside the questionable claims about correlation, this argument falsely assumes that only bad things correlate with bad things. As I’ve argued before, that’s not so. (Worldwide, affluence correlates with obesity, but it doesn’t follow we should oppose affluence.)

Besides, Blankenhorn overlooks all of the good things that correlate with same-sex marriage (higher education rates, support for religious freedom, respect for women, and so on).

(3) The move from “Children do better with their biological parents than in other kinds of arrangements” to “Same-sex marriage is bad for children.” Blankenhorn’s argument here is more subtle than most. It’s not that gay and lesbian couples make bad parents (indeed, Blankenhorn supports gay adoption); it’s that same-sex marriage reinforces the notion that marriage isn’t primarily about children. And widespread acceptance of that notion—particularly in the hands of the heterosexual majority, who do not escape Blankenhorn’s critique—is bad for children. This argument (which deserves more than a cursory treatment) is marked by a number of dubious empirical assumptions; it also ignores children who are already being raised by same-sex parents and would palpably benefit from their parents’ legal marriage.

Beyond these concerns, I’m tempted to respond to Blankenhorn’s point about “the equal dignity of homosexual love” with an exasperated “Duh!” Yes, we love our partners! We rejoice with them in times of joy; we suffer when they ail; we weep when they die. The failure to notice this is not just obtuse, it’s morally careless. Thanking someone for acknowledging it feels akin to thanking the neighbor kids for not peeing on my lawn, or thanking my students for not sleeping in class—those were never supposed to be options, anyway.

Ironically, it’s largely because of kids that I resist giving this kind of snarky response. It’s all well and good that I think truths about our lives are obvious. But in the real world—the one we actually live in—people believe and spread vicious falsehoods about us. I’m concerned about our kids’ hearing them.

Blankenhorn may be mistaken—even badly so—but he isn’t vicious. What’s more, he has the ear of audiences who would never listen to me, much less to the ideological purists who call me an “Uncle Tom.” And he’s telling those audiences about the equal dignity of our love. I’m genuinely grateful for that.

Would I prefer that Blankenhorn preached the equal dignity of same-sex love without opposing marriage equality? Of course. But I don’t always get what I prefer. And I also realize that, if Blankenhorn shared all of my preferred views, he wouldn’t have the attention of opponents I want to convert—if not to marriage equality, then at least to a belief in our equal dignity.

Do I need Blankenhorn’s approval for my relationship? Of course not. But public discourse matters. Ideas matter; votes matter. They matter to us, and they matter to those who come after us.

When Blankenhorn tells our opponents about “the equal dignity of homosexual love,” he’s talking to people with kids. Some of those kids will be gay. For their sake, I’m critical of him. For their sake, I’m also grateful to him.

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First published on September 4, 2007, at 365gay.com

Jim West, Jim McGreevey, Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, Bob Allen, David Vitter. Now Larry Craig.

Public figures’ getting caught with their pants down is nothing new. What is new is a high-tech culture that makes exposure likely, rapid, and widespread. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to “disorderly conduct” in Minnesota in the hopes that no one would notice in his home state of Idaho. A quarter-century ago, when Craig started his congressional career, that strategy might actually have worked.

For those who haven’t been following the news: Craig is a U.S. Senator who was arrested in June for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. He also happens to be a staunch opponent of gay rights, with a zero voting scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign.

People love sex scandals, and they especially love a sex scandal that brings a moralistic finger-wagger to his knees (ahem). Perhaps that’s why the above list —taken from recent memory, and by no means exhaustive—includes only one Democrat. Liberals enjoy sex as much as anyone, and they surely have their skeletons. But when someone soliciting forbidden sex is known for railing against sexual sin, it makes for a juicier story.

What is striking about the Craig saga is this: despite his over thirty years of public service, virtually no one rallied to his defense. Conservatives view him as a deviant. (Mitt Romney, whose Idaho presidential campaign Craig had chaired, referred to Craig’s behavior as “disgusting” before the senator even had an opportunity to release a statement.) Liberals view him as a hypocrite. Absolutely no one views him as credible. (His claim that he touched the arresting officer’s foot because he has a “wide stance” rang especially hollow.)

Various sides in the culture wars will try to make an example of Craig. Gay-rights opponents will spin the story as further evidence of homosexuality’s sordid nature, not to mention its vicious power. After all, if seemingly God-fearing men like Ted Haggard and Larry Craig can succumb to such behavior, who among us is safe?

Gay-rights advocates, by contrast, will spin it as evidence of the dangers of the closet. After all, openly gay people generally neither want nor need to troll restrooms for clandestine encounters.

The opponents are right to point out that sex is powerful, in a way that can make smart people do dumb, sometimes disastrous things. They’re wrong to think that this point is any more applicable to homosexuality than to heterosexuality (note Vitter’s name in the list above).

True, straight people don’t typically seek sex in public restrooms. But that’s partly because (1) public restrooms are mostly segregated by sex and (2) “quickie” sex is anatomically less convenient for women—which still hasn’t prevented some from joining the “mile high club” in cramped airplane lavatories.

The bigger reason is (3) straight people don’t feel the desperate need to conceal their erotic interests in the way closeted gay people do.

And that’s where gay-rights advocates make a decisive point: the culture of the closet is unhealthy for everyone involved. Lying about one’s sex life makes it easier to lie about other things; it also precludes the counsel of friends in an area where such counsel is desperately needed. (See previous point about sex being powerful.)

Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank put it well in a Newsweek interview regarding the Mark Foley scandal: “Being in the closet doesn’t make you do dumb things, doesn’t justify you doing dumb things, it just makes them likelier.” Frank should know: he was once embroiled in a scandal of his own involving a gay prostitute living in his Washington apartment during the 1980’s, when Frank was still closeted.

I’ll concede one point to gay-rights opponents: the fact that Larry Craig sought sex with men doesn’t prove he was wrong to condemn gay marriage, oppose workplace protections for gays, or support the military ban. He was wrong about those things independently of his sex life. In any case, our lives don’t always reflect our best judgment.

But the fact that Larry Craig sought sex with men does mean that he ought to have mustered more compassion for gays than his public stance suggested. (It’s one area where his stance was decidedly narrow.)

It’s easy to call Craig a deviant, a liar, and a hypocrite. It’s hard to feel compassion for someone who showed little of it to those who deal openly with challenges he knew privately. But compassion is still a virtue. Craig may not deserve it, but right now, he desperately needs it.

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First published at 365gay.com on August 20, 2007

It seemed like a softball question at first. During LOGO’s August 10 gay-rights forum for the Democratic presidential candidates, panelist (and rock star) Melissa Etheridge asked New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, “Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?”

Richardson, who has a strong gay-rights record, responded, “It’s a choice. It’s…”

Several audience members gasped. Wrong answer! Etheridge interrupted, “I don’t think you understand the question,” prompting nervous laughter throughout the studio. She tried again:

“Do you think I—a homosexual is born that way, or do you think that around seventh grade we go, ‘Ooh, I want to be gay’?”

“Seventh grade” is right: at that moment Etheridge seemed like an indulgent schoolteacher, trying to feed a quiz answer to a hapless student. Multiple-choice: A or B (hint: it’s obviously not B).

Richardson missed the hint. Instead, he rambled:

“Well, I—I’m not a scientist. It’s—you know, I don’t see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people as a matter of human decency. I see it as a matter of love and companionship and people loving each other. I don’t like to, like, answer definitions like that, you know, perhaps are grounded in science or something else that I don’t understand.”

Audience reaction, and the subsequent commentary, all suggested that Richardson’s response was a disaster. One editorial referred to it as his “macaca moment” (recalling Virginia Senator’s George Allen’s fatal use of that slur during his last campaign).

Richardson should have been prepared for this: Bob Schieffer asked the same question during the 2004 presidential debates, prompting Bush to respond “I don’t know” and Kerry to give his infamous “Mary Cheney is a lesbian” answer. Why do smart people stumble over what seems to be a simple question?

Let me hazard a guess: because it’s not a simple question. In fact, it’s a confused question.

Take Etheridge’s first formulation: “Do you think homosexuality is a choice, or is it biological?” The question actually jumbles together two distinct issues:

(1) How do people become gay? (By genetics? Early environment? Some combination of the above?)

and

(2) Can they change it (i.e. choose to be otherwise)?

The answers to these two questions vary independently. My hair color is biologically determined, but I can change it. The fact that my native language is English is environmentally determined, but I can’t change it. (Of course I could learn a new language, but given my age it would never totally subsume my native language.) The point is that a trait’s being acquired doesn’t mean it isn’t deep.

Etheridge’s revised version makes the false dilemma even starker: either we’re born this way, or else it’s an arbitrary whim— “Ooh, I want to be gay.” Since it’s obviously not a whim, we’re supposed to conclude that we’re born this way.

“Born this way” is a virtual article of faith among gays. Call me a heretic, but I neither know nor care whether I was born this way. I don’t remember the way the world was when I was born (neither do you), and I can’t discern my genetic makeup by simple introspection (ditto).

What I do know is that I’ve had these feelings a long time, and they’re a significant part of who I am. Whether I have them because of genetics, or early childhood influences, or some complex medley of factors is a question for scientists—not columnists, rock stars or politicians. In that respect, Richardson’s profession of scientific ignorance was both modest and reasonable.

The question “Is it a choice or biological?” involves gross oversimplification. Homosexuality is both, and neither, depending on what one means.

Although we don’t choose our romantic feelings, homosexuality (like heterosexuality) certainly involves choices—about whether and how and with whom to express those feelings. When Richardson said “it’s a choice,” he probably meant that we have the right to make such choices. Good for him.

At the same time, homosexuality (like heterosexuality) surely has biological underpinnings. We’re flesh-and-blood creatures. At some level, everything about us is biological, regardless of what causal story about sexual orientation one accepts.

But don’t we need to prove we’re “born this way” to show that homosexuality is “natural”? Not at all. I wasn’t born speaking English, or practicing religion, or writing columns—yet none of these is “unnatural” in any morally relevant sense.

I don’t blame gays for being disappointed with Richardson’s forum performance: he seemed unprepared and lethargic. But let’s not insist that he embrace dogmas that should have no bearing on our rights. Whether or not we’re “born this way,” there’s nothing wrong with our being this way. Thankfully, Richardson seems to get that.

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First published in 365gay.com on August 6, 2007

When I was in junior high I used to sit at the “black” lunch table in the cafeteria, much to the shock (and occasional ridicule) of my white schoolmates. The seating was not officially segregated, but with rare exceptions African-Americans sat together, and I sat with them.

It wasn’t a grand political statement or a conscious act of solidarity or anything high-minded. On the contrary, it was a reluctant acknowledgment of my outsider status. While members of the white, mostly affluent student majority called me a “fag,” the black students were nice to me, and I felt more comfortable around them.

Some years later I started going to the gay beaches on Fire Island, where I noticed a number of interracial straight couples. Interestingly, the “straight” part stuck out more than the “interracial” part—which, I later learned, was their main reason for choosing the gay beach. “We get a lot of flak at the straight beaches,” they told me. “But gays are cool about it.” Fellow outsiders, once again.

I thought about both of these events recently as I watched the movie Hairspray, the 2007 incarnation of the 1988 John Waters film (later a Broadway musical). One of the film’s most poignant moments occurs when Penny, a working-class white girl, and Seaweed, a black male, reveal their relationship to Seaweed’s mom, Motormouth Mabelle (played by Queen Latifah).

“Well, love is a gift,” Mabelle responds. “A lot of people don’t remember that. So, you two better brace yourselves for a whole lotta ugly comin’ at you from a never-ending parade of stupid.”

Many have speculated about whether and how Hairspray counts as a “gay” movie. Of course, there’s the John Waters provenance, the drag lead character (originated by Divine and played on Broadway by Harvey Fierstein), and the inherent campiness of movie musicals. But the most profound connection lies in its message of acceptance: Hairspray celebrates forbidden love in the face of “a never-ending parade of stupid.” It’s a theme gays know well.

Gay-rights opponents often object to comparisons between the civil-rights movement and the gay-rights movement. Race, they say, is an immutable, non-behavioral characteristic, whereas homosexuality involves chosen behaviors; thus it’s wrong (even insulting) to compare the two.

Even putting aside the fact that “civil rights” are something we’re all fighting for—equal treatment under the law—this objection founders. It misunderstands the nature of racism, the nature of homophobia, and the point of the analogy between the two.

Although race is in some sense “an immutable, non-behavioral characteristic,” racism is all about chosen behaviors. The racist doesn’t simply object to people’s skin color: he objects to their moving into “our” neighborhoods, marrying “our” daughters, attacking “our” values and so on. In other words, he objects to behaviors, both real and imagined. What’s more, discriminating on the basis of race is most certainly chosen behavior. Calling race “non-behavioral” misses that important fact.

At the same time, calling homosexuality “behavioral” misses quite a bit as well. Yes, homosexuality (like heterosexuality) is expressed in behaviors, and some of those behaviors offend people. But one need not be sexually active to be kicked out of the house, fired from a job, or verbally or physically abused for being gay. Merely being perceived as gay (without any homosexual “behavior”) is enough to trigger the abuse.

Even where chosen behaviors trigger the abuse, it doesn’t follow that they warrant the abuse—any more than blacks’ choosing to marry whites (and vice versa) warrants abuse. So the insistence that race is immutable whereas homosexuality is behavioral, even if it were accurate, misses the point. Gays, like blacks, face unjust discrimination, often in the name of religion, that interferes with some of the most intimate aspects of their lives. Hence the analogy.

I’m not denying that there are important differences between race and sexual orientation (or between racism and heterosexism). Gays and lesbians do not face the cumulative generational effects of discrimination the way ethnic minorities do, and we have nothing in American history comparable to slavery or Jim Crow. On the other hand, no one is kicked out of the house because his biological parents figured out that he’s black. There are plusses and minuses to the lack of generational continuity (as well as the other differences)—and little point in arguing over who’s worse off.

Early in Hairspray the young lead character announces, “People who are different—their time is coming.” We “different” people have much to learn from one another, as the never-ending parade of stupid marches on.

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First published at 365gay.com on July 9, 2007

If I were the religious type, I might be preparing for Armageddon right now.

You see, last weekend my partner Mark and I drove out to his parents’ house to help with yard work. This in itself would be unremarkable except that, as recently as Christmas, Mark’s father insisted that I would be welcome at their house “over [his] dead body.”

We arrive. Mark’s father greets us at the door. He appears to be breathing normally. This is progress.

Mark and I have been together for nearly six years. When we first started dating, he was fresh out of law school, living with his parents while he looked for a job. He had not yet come out to them. “I figured I should wait until I had someone special in my life to tell them about,” he explained to me.

“Isn’t that sweet,” I replied to him. “What a bad idea,” I thought to myself.

Just as I feared: when Mark finally did come out to his parents, I personified for them everything that had gone wrong. I was “that man” (they could never bring themselves to use my name) who had corrupted their son. Never mind that Mark had been dating guys for years before meeting me: in their minds, his being gay was all my fault.

We hoped that their wrath would subside quickly, but it didn’t. They refused to come to our house. They refused, even, to meet me. So we decided to ambush them. One Sunday, Mark’s sister invited everyone out to lunch. “We won’t tell them you’re coming,” she explained sympathetically. “In a public place, they’ll have to be nice to you.”

Mark’s family is Asian. Like many Asians, they believe in “saving face.” They abhor public scenes. (By contrast, my family is Italian. We believe in expressing ourselves. Public scenes are our forte.)

When Mark’s parents arrived at the restaurant that day, Mark took a deep breath and blurted out, “Mom, Dad, this is John.”

“Nice to meet you,” I offered. They responded with a look that could wilt flowers.

We managed to get through lunch. But our ambush only caused them to dig in their heels deeper. They refused to attend Mark’s 30th birthday dinner because “that man” would be there. They refused to attend his sister’s engagement party because we were hosting it at our house. We seriously worried that they might refuse to attend her wedding.

When they finally bought their plane tickets for the wedding (held at a Mexican resort, on “neutral” territory), we were apprehensive. “These all-inclusive resorts have unlimited alcoholic beverages?” we asked his sister. “We’ll need them.”

Adding to the drama was the fact that my own parents would be attending. My Sicilian mother meets my Filipino mother-in-law. An irresistible force meets an immovable object. Our friends wanted ringside seats.

The wedding went off without a hitch. My parents—who have been wonderfully supportive—introduced themselves to Mark’s parents. “You have such a lovely family,” my mother said to Mark’s mother. I watched for the flower-wilting look, but I couldn’t detect it. Maybe the margaritas had kicked in.

But it wasn’t just the margaritas. The wedding seems to have been a turning point. Maybe it was Mark’s parents’ seeing us interact closely with my parents, and realizing that they were missing out. Maybe it was their seeing that I actually had parents, rather than having emerged directly from hell. Whatever it was, they softened. Dramatically.

Mother’s Day came, and we all went out to brunch. I didn’t have to ambush them.
Father’s Day came, and they actually visited our house. They complimented us on our garden, our food, our furniture. When they finally drove away, I turned to Mark and said, “Who were those people and what have they done with your parents?”

“I have no idea,” he replied, dazed.

Then last weekend we went over to help them with weeding and planting. “John, work in the shade,” his mother insisted. “The sun is too hot.” She brought me a towel so I wouldn’t have to kneel on rocky soil. She brought me bottles of cold water. (I checked the caps before drinking them. Tamper-proof.) Both she and his father were extremely gracious, and I don’t think it was just for the free yard work.

In recent years gays have seen tremendous social and legal progress. There is much work to be done. But some of the most important work, and the most powerful, occurs on a small scale. It’s mothers’ introducing themselves to mothers-in-law (even when there is no “law” recognizing the relationship). It’s yard work; it’s brunch. Raise a margarita and drink to that.

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First published in Between the Lines on June 14, 2007

When I heard that someone was suing eHarmony for its refusal to provide dating services for same-sex couples, I winced.

It’s not that I approve of their policy (I don’t). It’s not even that I think that their policy, while wrongheaded, is in fact legal (I’ll leave that question to those who know California anti-discrimination law).

It’s that the last thing the gay-rights movement needs is a frivolous lawsuit.

Some background: eHarmony is an online matching service founded by psychologist Neil Clark Warren (he’s the smiling white-haired guy on the commercials). Users of the site must qualify for membership by taking a patented personality test, which creates a profile based on Dr. Warren’s “29 areas of compatibility.” But first they must indicate whether they are a “man seeking a woman” or a “woman seeking a man.”

That last part troubled California resident Linda Carlson, who contacted the company to request a “woman seeking woman” option. They refused, and Carlson sued. Her lawyers are seeking to make this a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all prospective gay and lesbian clients.

Although eHarmony’s founder is an evangelical Christian with ties to Focus on the Family, the company claims to have no objection to gays and lesbians per se: it’s just that Dr. Warren’s system (which is classified and proprietary) doesn’t apply to them.

According to a company statement, eHarmony’s research “has been based on traits and personality patterns of successful heterosexual marriages….Nothing precludes us from providing same-sex matching in the future. It’s just not a service we offer now based upon the research we have conducted.”

Let’s all acknowledge that this rationale is probably a load of hooey. After all, how different can the needs and interests of same-sex couples be? Are you a smoker or non-smoker? Prefer nights-on-the-town or walks-on-the-beach? Love or hate American Idol? Etc.

(On the other hand, if I were designing a personality test to match same-sex couples, I might add some specialized questions: Madonna or Maria Callas? Volvo or Subaru? Mid-century modern or rococo? You get the idea.)

Whatever the reason, eHarmony offers a limited service, one that Linda Carlson doesn’t want: it matches people to opposite-sex partners. Should it be forced by law to match people to same-sex partners?

Before you answer, consider the implications: if eHarmony is forced to offer services to gay couples, should Gay.com be forced to offer services to men seeking women (or vice versa)? Should JDate be forced to offer services to Gentiles? Should kosher delis be forced to serve ham and cheese? Where do we draw the line?

One might argue that eHarmony, unlike JDate or Gay.com, does not advertise itself as a “niche” service. But one doubts that Carlson and her attorneys would be satisfied if eHarmony simply tweaked their marketing to prominently feature the word “heterosexual.” After all, they are not suing eHarmony for false advertising; they are suing it for discrimination.

Okay, but what if a company wanted to offer dating services only for whites seeking whites? What if they (unconvincingly) claimed that, while they had nothing against black people, they simply didn’t have the research to support matching services for blacks?

This is the hard question, and it deserves serious consideration. There are times when discrimination is so ugly and pervasive that the law ought to step in. Traditional racial discrimination was certainly of that level, as is much discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Keep in mind, however, that we’re not talking about discrimination in employment, or housing, or transportation. We’re not even talking about the Boy Scouts. We are talking about a DATING SERVICE. There are plenty of such services that Linda Carlson could use (Gay.com, Yahoo.com, and Match.com, to name a few), not to mention better uses of the judicial system and movement resources.

Back to the hard question: if a company wanted to offer a service only for whites seeking whites—or blacks seeking blacks, or Asians seeking Asians, or what have you—I might question their motives. If I found them suspect (which they might not be: after all, there are legitimate niche dating services), I would publicly criticize them. If the situation were bad enough, I might support a boycott on the part of advertisers and prospective clients. But I would not advocate government interference.

Carlson’s lawyer Todd Schneider claims the lawsuit is about “making a statement out there that gay people, just like heterosexuals, have the right and desire to meet other people with whom they can fall in love.” Of course they do. But that doesn’t mean that the government should force Neil Clark Warren, or anyone else, to assist them.

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First published in Between the Lines, May 31, 2007

The day after Jerry Falwell’s funeral, Mary Cheney—who is a LESBIAN, in case you’ve forgotten the Bush-Kerry debates—gave birth to a baby boy.

If I were the world’s scriptwriter, I would have reversed the order: Cheney gives birth, then Falwell keels over. No matter: just as nature abhors a vacuum, so does right-wing foolishness. With Falwell gone, someone else will step up to blame the world’s problems on Tinky Winky, environmentalists, and lesbian moms.

For the record, my condolences go out to the Falwell family. That the man said profoundly stupid things about gays and lesbians (among other subjects) does not alter the fact that he was also a husband, father, and friend.

If only Falwell and his followers could muster up similar empathy. Whatever one might think about lesbian parenting, Mary Cheney is a mother, and Samuel David Cheney is her son. None of this will stop the so-called “family values” crowd from accusing her of child abuse simply for bringing him into the world. It’s a nasty accusation, and it needs to be countered forcefully.

Vice President Cheney seems to understand this point. Some months ago, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him to comment on criticisms of Mary, and the vice president responded with harsh verbal smack-down. Blitzer didn’t deserve it (don’t shoot the messenger—or in this case, the interviewer). But it was hard not to admire Cheney’s exceedingly effective “Don’t fuck with my family” attitude, or to be grateful that for once his belligerence was (almost) well-aimed.

When gay or lesbian couples decide to have children, they obtain them one of two ways. First, they may adopt, thus giving a home to a child who has none. Parenting is an act of loving sacrifice, and those who adopt children ought to be applauded and supported. To treat them otherwise not only insults them, it also harms their children—not to mention other needy children who may be deprived loving homes because of misguided “family values.” Shame on those who stand in their way.

The other way—the one used by Mary Cheney and Heather Poe—is pregnancy, either by insemination or implantation of an embryo. I do not wish to minimize the moral questions raised by reproductive technology. Most of these questions, however, are not unique to lesbian and gay parents, who constitute a minority of its users.

But aren’t same-sex families “suboptimal” for children? The research says otherwise. So does every mainstream health organization that has commented on the issue: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, the American Psychiatric Association, and so on.

Jerry Falwell’s crowd would have us believe that these organizations have all been hijacked by the vast “Homosexual Agenda.” Trust me: if we had such power, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Forget the research for a moment and consider the following: if Mary Cheney had not chosen to become pregnant—by whatever means she used—Samuel David Cheney would not exist. After all, he is a genetically unique individual, as pro-lifers frequently remind us. The practical alternative to Samuel’s existing in this lesbian household is his not existing at all, and it is hard to argue that he’d be better off that way. So the claim that they harm him, simply by bringing him into this situation, rings hollow.

Metaphysical subtleties aside, the fact is that Mary and Heather will provide this child with a loving home, not to mention many material advantages. The more people see that, the more ridiculous charges of “child abuse” sound.

And that last point gives me great cause for optimism. When I came out of the closet nearly twenty years ago, myths about gay and lesbian people abounded: we were sick, we were predators, we were miserable, we were amoral. Such myths still exist, of course, but they are far more difficult to float (and thus, far less common). The main reason is that we are much more visible now, and so people know firsthand that the myths simply aren’t true.

While many people know openly gay or lesbian people, relatively fewer know gay or lesbian parents. That’s changing, and as it does, so too will the ability of the right wing to float nasty myths about them. Their influence will wane in the face of simple evidence.

Samuel David Cheney begins his life in an America with fewer Jerry Falwells and more Mel Whites; fewer Pat Buchanans and more Andrew Sullivans; fewer Dr. Lauras and more Ellens. Good for him (and the rest of us).

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First published in Between the Lines on May 3, 2007

This past weekend I attended a big Italian wedding in New York. I grew up on Long Island, in a family where big Italian weddings are a staple. This one had all the usual trappings: loud music, louder relatives, tons of food.

This one, however, had two grooms.

If you were just passing through the reception hall, you might not have noticed. The male-female ratio was a bit high, but not by much: most of the 140 guests were from the grooms’ families. There was a “Nana” (Grandma) dressed in silver from head to toe: silver hair, silver dress, silver shoes. There were buxom aunts with too much makeup; uncles with big moustaches and perfectly slicked hair; excited mothers, proud fathers. Children ran about yanking at their bows and neckties, their Sunday clothes increasingly askew as the day progressed. A DJ kept prodding people to dance, and no one—not even the wait staff—batted an eye at the handful of same-sex couples swaying amidst the others.

At one point my partner leaned over to me and said, “This feels weird.”

I knew what he meant. And it wasn’t just the weirdness that accompanies all weddings: the gaudy pageantry; the forced intimacy with distant relatives and acquaintances; the cheesy running commentary from the DJ (“on this day, the most important day of their lives…”—ugh). It was the fact that, where we would normally be stealth attendees, we were suddenly the main event. This was not some newfangled “commitment ceremony”—it was a big, old-fashioned Italian wedding, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, godparents, and so on.

Most gays have a strange relationship with weddings. We are stereotypically (and often in fact) connected with their planning and execution, as florists, designers, musicians, priests, and so on. But as guests we are typically outsiders. We gather to celebrate love in a world that doesn’t want to hear about ours. We sit at tables with relatives and friends who may not know that we’re gay and may not like it if they do. We are warned not to “spoil things” by “making a scene.” So when the slow songs play, we dance with Nana. Like the guys on “Queer Eye,” we help plan others’ events and then retreat invisibly into the background. I’ve always found it rather cruel.

But not here. And that was weird…in a good way.

One of the grooms has been a friend of mine for 24 years. Bob and I attended high school together: Chaminade, an all-male Catholic prep school on Long Island. In every class we shared I sat behind him, not because of any particular bond between us, but because we sat alphabetically and his last name begins with “Cors”.

Lunch was the only time we could choose our seating partners, and there we sat together again, along with about a half-dozen other guys over the course of our four years there. At least five of those guys have turned out to be gay (another is a Catholic priest whose sexual orientation I’ve never bothered to ask). Go ahead and joke about “gaydar,” but somehow we found kindred spirits years before any of us dared to admit—to ourselves or others—our sexual orientation.

Had you told me then that decades later I would be attending the gay wedding of one of my lunch buddies, I would have prayed for you (I was very Catholic then; skepticism set in later). Had you added that I would be attending with my own male partner, I would have…well, I would have prayed for me. By then I was aware enough of my burgeoning gayness to fear it.

So it was particularly sweet for me, in the same week I received the invitation to our twenty-year high school reunion, to stand up with Bob’s family and friends and witness his wedding to Joe. It felt good to say “Congratulations” to his Mom and Dad in the receiving line—the same Mom and Dad who posed for graduation pictures with us two decades earlier. It was delightful (though a sobering reminder of my age) to meet his younger sister’s children, some of whom will soon be thinking about high school themselves.

Political battles are important and necessary. But the fight for marriage equality will ultimately be won only when our nanas and aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews see our marriages as the family-extending events that they are. Congratulations, Joe, Bob, and family.

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First Published in “Between The Lines” in May 2007

If the marketing industry is any gauge, I’m not a very good Gay Man. No matter how many pairs of shoes I own, I typically wear only two: a pair of simple black dress boots or a pair of black sneakers. Same with jeans: a pair of Levis or some fancy designer pair (I honestly don’t know the brand). I thought the latter were ridiculously expensive, even at 75% off, but in a moment of weakness I let the sales-guy talk me into them because, in his words, “they make your ass look hot!” (They do, so I wear them to go out.)

I don’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch, because, frankly, I’ve never been young enough to wear those clothes (I was the only guy in my 7th grade class to wear a tie for the yearbook photo). When my partner and I walk into a department store, he goes to the jeans and t-shirts and I go to what we’ve come to call “the grown-up section.” In the grown-up section I look at ties but never buy them, because no matter how many I own, there are only three or four in my closet that I ever reach for.

I live in a comfortable four-bedroom house built in the 1930’s, with modestly sized closets typical of that era. Several friends have suggested turning the fourth bedroom into a walk-in closet. I think that if I ever need to do that, it’s time to give away some clothes. (The Ruth Ellis Center, a Detroit shelter for homeless and runaway LGBT youth, is happy to take donations.)

I buy $12 sunglasses. Without rhinestones. Seriously: twice in the last month I’ve been to parties where some guy (a different one each time) wore bedazzled Chanel sunglasses. One of those parties was at night, indoors.

I go to a barber shop, not a salon. I don’t use eye cream. I seldom wear hair product.

I feel silly typing the words “hair product.”

I don’t lie about my age, even online, where I don’t have a profile anyway (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This column hits the newsstands around my 38th birthday. To ease me into the next decade, my friends have begun telling me that 40 is the new 30. I keep telling myself that a slight paunch is the new six-pack, and that weird patches of hair are the new smooth.

I think gyms are goofy, but I go because I’m a gay man pushing 40 and it’s the law. Besides, I need to keep fitting in those jeans in order to justify their cost.

I have less and less patience for the fact that “going out” means leaving the house at an hour that I normally call bedtime. When I do go out, I order “old man drinks” like Negronis or bourbon-and-ginger-ale. I would sooner drink Windex than order a vodka-Red Bull (and it would probably taste better, too).

I have never, ever, ever gone to a tanning salon. Maybe that’s why I don’t need eye cream.

Occasionally I read “lifestyle” magazines that suggest that, at my advanced age, I should consider Botox to make me look more rested. If I wanted to look more rested, I would get more rest. (I’ve tried it; it works.)

Those same magazines suggest that Viagra would allow me to have sex like I did when I was 19. If I wanted to have sex like I did when I was 19, I’d grab a copy of the International Male catalog and lock myself in the bathroom.

When people make stupid comments about penis size, I announce with a straight face that I have a small one. Then I take silent glee in watching them stammer and backpedal. (Try it sometime, regardless of whether you have a small penis. The 50% of men with smaller-than-average penises will be quietly in your debt. Besides, it’s funny to watch the reaction.)

I don’t have an iPod and wouldn’t know how to use one if I did. Until recently, I drove a 12-year-old car, even though I could afford a new one. I have nothing against people’s spending money on things that make their lives better (my new car is really sweet), but I find that things never turn me on as much as people do.

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