Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gay Lobby Bares its Ass

I only realized late last night that the premiere of season two of the new Doctor Who series was yesterday. Preferring to sleep, I assumed they would rerun it, but it turns out I just missed it. Ah well. Despite the obviously improved writing and special effects, I have mixed feelings about the new show anyway. On the plus side, I thought Christopher Eccleston was ace as Doctor Nine, possibly the best of all ten (though I'm also a fan of numbers Two and Four) - but of course he's gone now. In the minus column - the politically correct social commentary was more than a little bit irritating.

In a way, it's that that I wanted to talk about. Following Doctor Who-related links last night, I discovered that the actor who played Captain Jack - an "openly" (they never directly say so, but the hints are so strong they're clearly not hiding it) bisexual character - is himself gay. At the bottom of his Wiki page there's a link to an interview he did with AfterElton, in which he says the following:

JB: ... The whole thing about gay marriage. I particularly don't like to associate a civil partnership, which is what I call it, with a marriage. Because--and I have arguments with people in the gay community about this a lot--why do we want a word that is synonymous with a religious ideal [belonging to] a group of people that hates us? Why do we want to be part of that? Why do we want to have that word attached to us, why can't we create our own word?

And you know what else has happened, the conservatives have turned it into a political battle, so every time they want something done, they just say “Oh, gay people will be married, and marriage is a sacred thing”. Well then--excuse my French-- let's f*** it, let's just get rid of the word. Let us use ‘partnerships', it's still the same thing. The thing that we need the benefit from is--

AE: The legal rights.
JB: The legal side of it. And also the fact that, for people who don't want to accept homosexuality, it shoves it down their throat, to coin a phrase--sorry, I'm on my soapbox here-- it forces them to accept us, and to respect us.

Which sort of puts me in a bind, given things I've said about gay marriage. On the one hand, I agree with him about the need to first go through "civil unions" before outright calling it marriage. Not only that, but we agree on the reasoning: (1) there are cultural issues that haven't been settled and (2) calling it "marriage" gives conservatives an excuse to make a bigger issue out of it than it really needs to be, thus delaying the process anyway.

On the other hand, he then comes right out and says something that I've long suspected - nay known - to be part of the gay lobby's agenda, and that's that the campaign for gay marriage is really just a proxy for forcing the public to accept them. And to that I have a giant objection.

In fact, the real reason I'm against recognizing gay marriage is because I do not think the government should be in the business of recognizing anyone's marriages - gays, straights, polygamists, what have you. Marriage ought to be a private affair - between the consenting adults involved, their church if they have one, and their lawyers (for drawing up wills, medical releases, etc.). There's no need for the government to sanction this cultural institution because it can and will survive on its own, and maintaining cultural institutions is anyway outside of the government's job description.

One of the reasons I have this opinion is because I'm also a strong believer in what I sometimes think of as the "Give unto Caesar" principle of government - which is that all government should really do is set up a framework in which society can function. It exists to defend us from external threat, enforce the rule of law at home, and THAT IS ALL. Other institutions that people think they need - like religions or corporations or whatever else - they are free to form. These things should not be supported by the government. And the main reason they should not is because people should be left maximally free to work out their own affairs. Naturally life in society will involve prohibiting certain kinds of behavior (e.g. theft, murder) in the interest of protecting citizens' rights. But aside from these well-defined cases, people should be free to pursue their own goals in the ways they see fit.

Whatever I personally think about bigotry, I am not free to require that people abandon it. I can try to persuade them to (and I do, though since I focus largely on eliminating the bigotry I myself experience from minority groups, it isn't always perceived that way), but I cannot force it. And that's why I think this motive for pushing gay marriage on the public is an abomination. Our system of laws is not meant to enforce notions of which lifestyle choices are proper and which are not (but see footnote at end). Demanding government recognition of gay marriage is precisely that: asking the government to declare for all its approval of your lifestyle, whether or not the public in general agrees. This is a disgusting and intolerant tactic, and I think it should be resisted.

So while on the one hand I want to salute Barrowman for his support of civil unions over marriage for gays, on the other I think at least some of his motives here are a bit bigoted. As further illustration, he says this earlier in the interview:

AE: [laughing] It's OK. I was just asking, in your own experience, whether you had known men that were bisexual.
JB: Oh, right, yeah. I don't like to label. I think of myself as a man. I am a man, who, if you have to put me in a category, I am a man who likes men, I would be a gay man.

I do believe that there are people who can like men and women, because, although I wouldn't choose to sleep with a woman, I still find women attractive. And when I say ‘choose to sleep with a woman', it's not a choice that I have made [to be gay], it's just not in me to sleep with women. I wasn't created this way to sleep with women.

And with men who like both men and women, that's fine, but there's a lot of confusion goes on in that instance, because men sometimes do use bisexuality as an excuse not to admit to their families, their friends, and publicly that they really are gay.

In other words, despite the obligatory leading disclaimer, he doesn't really believe in bisexuals. Which is fine with me personally because I'm skeptical myself. But the point is surely that anyone who advocates civil unions as a way of forcing an unwilling public to accept his lifestyle should not be making judgements about the lifestyles of others. There is, after all, no shortage of people who believe that there is also no such thing as true homosexuality, that it is just a mental illness, or a spiritual corruption, or even just profound confusion attributable to weakness of character. Barrowman presumably rejects these views based on his own experience. So who is he to pontificate about the motivations of bisexuals?

I should think that someone like him would rather regard this as an empirical question. If homosexuality ever becomes completely acceptable, then we'll see whether the percentage of the population that describes itself as "bisexual" drops. But until then, all we can really do is speculate.

And this leads to my final bone to pick with Barrowman - and that's this repeated meme of an opinion about America.

So, I suppose when I look at what's going on in the US, and I just despair in terms of some of the attitudes and the laws there, you hope it won't take [forever to change]. Because sometimes I think: oh God, it's going to be like fifty years before they have gay marriage across the States...
JB: Well I think, I think you're right. It's the fear tactics that they have in America. That's what's causing it to be so backwards. Everything is based on fear: what you don't understand, you fear. Keep people fearful of things, and they will listen to you, they will follow.

And here:

AE: Yeah. It's totally bizarre. So, in terms of Doctor Who, it really was the case that there was no pressure from the BBC, and no restrictions from them. John Barrowman kissing Chris Eccleston was fine with them?
JB: Well that was there... that was in the script.

The BBC, remember, are a public company, they are not a privately owned company. In Britain, we pay a license fee in order to have television. And that fee goes to the BBC. Therefore, the BBC must produce programming for the wide majority of the public. So they have to include everybody. I mean, we have gay programming all the time on the BBC. And it's watched by a mainstream audience.

The BBC, like all the other channels in the UK, is supportive of gay and lesbian programming. [Gay and lesbian characters] get introduced in programmes...and also, to be honest with you, if [the BBC] weren't [supportive]--it's the law now. It's part of the European law. If our military fire someone out of the military because they're gay, they get sued, and the gay people win.

And here:

AE: Brokeback Mountain.
JB: Brokeback Mountain, classic example of it. That's why I say that I'd like to think that we are progressing, but to me, the US seems to be going backwards in that aspect as opposed to forwards.

For this last bit, I should make clear that they're talking about Brokeback Mountain couching all this in terms of bisexuality and not about the fact that it didn't win at the Oscars.

But on the whole, I get really fed up with this crap. America is no less tolerant of gays than Europe. The only difference between America and Europe is that we're actually allowing the nation as a whole to discuss the issue rather than simply imposing the opinion the gay lobby wants. That's a crucially important point - because "acceptance" is ultimately something that people have to decide on, not their governments. You can legalize gay marriage all you want, but if the general population resents it well, then they resent it. Surely what's on the ground is more important (to the discussion of acceptance, I mean. Obviously the property rights secured to deserving individuals by imposed gay marriage are a desireable outcome.).

The thing that's really galling about this, though, is that America isn't actually falling behind on this anyway. Gay marriage is, as far as I know, legal in only five countries: The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and the US (in Massachussetts). Civil unions have existed in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway since the (very) late 1980s. So all of the countries on that list except the Netherlands are actually "behind" in some sense on it. In Canada, same-sex marriage was finally put to a vote in Parliament last year, but it was originally imposed by court decree (in a case in New Brunswick). The text of the bill legalizing it makes reference to this decision, in fact. The only way to overrule the court would have been to use the notwithstanding clause, which is something of a taboo (and has, in fact, never been used). So there's a real sense in which same-sex marriage in Canada passed only under the gun. As for Spain, it only passed after great effort, as it was originally rejected by the Senate and had to be put to a re-vote.

It should be noted that civil unions appeared in the United States long before they showed up in the UK (Barrowman is a dual UK/US citizen) or Canada or Spain. It isn't just Vermont, by the way. Seven other states recognize civil partnerships, and that's not counting Massachussetts, where gay marriage is fully legal.

The Canadian public opposes gay marriage by roughly the same percentage that the US public does. And the list goes on and on. Despite this image of the US as a hugely intolerant nation on this issue, it's actualy legally near the forefront. True, there is a lot of publically vocal opposition in the US, but I don't think that's an indication of a cultural defect. Quite the contrary - it merely means that the US public is having an actual dialogue on the issue rather than being bullied into tacit acceptance by their media or their governments.

The bit about Brokeback Mountain is particularly annoying, though, because the character that Barrowman plays in Doctor Who, which he seems to think is some kind of evidence for great tolerance in the UK, fits precisely the description he gives of Brokeback Mountain. Captain Jack's sexuality is never directly mentioned. There's one scene where he kisses the Doctor, but it's played off as a joke from a happy-go-lucky character and is anyway just a quick peck on the mouth. There's certainly no sexual attraction implied. And as for heterosexual relationships, Captain Jack actively pursues some women (including Rose Tyler, one of the leads) over the course of his appearances on the series. Meanwhile, 4 years before this ambiguous (and anyway bisexual) character on Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduced openly gay characters with no comment and managed to do better in the ratings. There's simply no case to be made here that US television and/or pop culture is any less gay-friendly than that of the UK.

As I've said, I do not personally have a problem with gay marriage as I believe that this is an issue for individuals and not governments. I fully support the US government removing all legalities pertaining to traditional marriages from the books and leaving everything up to individual contracts.

And that is why I get so impatient with people like Barrowman (whose opinions I take to represent the majority of opinion in the gay community). This is affirmative action all over again - we're just replacing one form of injustice with another. Thanks, but I prefer to actually learn from the mistakes of the past and try to get it right this time. Socking each other in the eye endlessly is not my kind of politics.

[Footnote - Before anyone drags out the tired objection - pedophilia is not covered by this because children are not old enough to make lifestyle decisions for themselves - i.e. cannot give consent. I realize that boundaries are arbitrary here, but most people agree on some time between the ages of 16 and 19, and whatever the agreed-on number in your locality is, it should be vigorously enforced. But it should be enforced as a protection of the child's rights and not as an prohibition of the lifestyle. To those who think there is no distinction - there is. Computer-generated pornographic images do not violate the rights of actual children and should, therefore, be legal. It is only the actual harming of children that the law has an interest in prohibiting. And yes, I draw a distinction between "prohibiting" a thing and "taking measures to prevent it."]


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