I’m one of those gay people who’s less than thrilled about the prospect of gay marriage. Marriage is a terrible way to distribute resources and benefits like tax breaks, healthcare, immigration status and social security. It’s a sexual contract rooted in monogamy, patriarchy and the preservation of private property that historically hasn’t worked very well for, oh, women. It’s increasingly obsolete and fails to reflect the way most Americans live. And its most vocal proponents–gay and straight–dress it up in all sorts of romantic nonsense that’s deeply offensive to single people. They’d have you believe that it’s the best and only way to love, have sex, become an adult, rear children and form a household.
So when President Bush prophesied the destruction of the “most fundamental institution of civilization” in his speech calling for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, I wasn’t sure if I was caught in a nightmare or a daydream. I’d happily be at the forefront of the gay marriage movement if its sinister secret agenda were the abolition of marriage as a legal institution. But that’s clearly not where this whole thing is going.
Long expected, Bush’s address was painstakingly calculated. Developing a strategy first tested in his State of the Union address, Bush nodded to his right-wing base and fueled mainstream voters’ anxieties over the decline of the nuclear family–all without sounding explicitly anti-gay. He never once mentioned the word “gay” and ended with a typically hollow plea for “kindness and good will and decency.” He appeared deeply reluctant to take this extraordinary step, as if his hand had been forced by “activist courts” and rogue local officials. And he cast the constitutional amendment as the last line of defense in the preservation of not just traditional marriage, but rule of law, democracy and social order.
Don’t let the “compassionate conservative” posturing fool you. Bush’s speech was inflammatory, clinically homophobic (defined as “an irrational fear of homosexuality”) and a complete mischaracterization of both the gay marriage movement and the constitutional amendment process. Bush used a series of highly ambiguous and manipulative terms to describe the current debate over gay marriage. “Unless action is taken,” he said, “we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials, all of which adds to uncertainty.” These actions, Bush added, “have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity.”
Now there are a lot of reasons why Americans might be uncertain and confused–like the fact that their government lied to them about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq–but gay marriage shouldn’t be at the top of the list. Bush’s speech gains its urgency and gravity by mobilizing a paranoid fantasy of homosexuality as the source of sexual anarchy, lawlessness and social chaos. And Bush isn’t the only fear-monger here. When asked about gay marriages on Meet the Press, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “All of a sudden we see riots and we see protests and we see people clashing. The next thing we know is there’s injured or there’s dead people.” In fact, the California attorney general’s office reports no rioting, only peaceful protests and cheekily suggested that perhaps the Terminator had confused San Francisco with “part of his next movie.” As far as I know, nobody has ever been injured or killed during a gay wedding–though what happens after nuptial bliss subsides, who can say?