Obergefell’s new definition of marriage has been in place for three years now. Banking on the simple, sentimental catchphrase “love is love,” the gay rights movement has revolutionized the way Americans talk about human relationships, from the level of government all the way down to the level of high school prom committees. Even President Obama jumped on the “love is love” bandwagon after having originally opposed redefining the legal definition of marriage. How did this revolutionary shift in our understanding of love begin in the first place? A brief glance at the history of the Gay Rights movement reveals some important implications for both contemporary gay rights activists and their adversaries.
“Love is love”
This tactic of melding the various expressions of love into the amorphous and supposedly universal category we now call “love” represents a break from the tactics used by earlier gay rights activists. The 70s Stonewall Era was marked by a radically different platform for gay rights. Much less organized, and miles away from anything remotely modeling bourgeois puritanical moral norms, the faces of the gay liberation movement consisted of drag queens, gender ambiguous persons, leather boys, topless “dykes”, sadomasochists, prostitutes, and a smattering of other sexual deviants who would shake the moral sensibilities of most who esteemed “American family values.” These deviants were essentially advocating the right to congregate in public spaces without being arrested.
Fast forward to 2015, and you find the new faces of the gay liberation movement, typically two attractive, cisgender, upper-middle class white men, clad in matching tuxedos at their marriage certificate signing ceremony at the local courthouse/Episcopal church, followed by photos of their post-wedding life, complete with a perfectly furnished condo, which is also home to their pristinely coiffed toy dog, and is known for hosting many a chic and happening cocktail party, with hors d’oeuvres found on pinterest and…..just the ideal, clean-cut, bourgeois image of married life! Hardly the abode of devilish, promiscuous, pedophilic, perverted sodomites.
What happened to the gay liberation movement in the small span of forty years? While you will definitely encounter a handful of the previously mentioned “deviants” at many a gay bar, one would be pressed to find a gay sadomasochist on an advertisement in a NYC subway funded by the Human Rights Campaign (maybe for apps like “Squirt,” but definitely not for the HRC). It seems as if the gay liberation movement took some time to seriously consider which strategies would most effectively win over the moral senses of the American public. Clearly, it would be hard to convince a down-home apple pie eating American family to accept their son, who revealed to his parents that he has been seeing several young men who share his fetish for dressing in leather, and who occasionally engages in transvestite prostitution.
Not sure how much this one is helping the cause…
American families typically value “values” rooted in puritanical moral sensibilities, catering to the ideal lifestyle of the “average American” middle class married couple with a few (2.4) children. The HRC and other prominent gay rights organizations were no fools when they started to aim their platform toward “traditional” family values. “We just want to be like everyone else!” we hear now. All they want to do is live a picturesque, Better Homes & Gardens cover-perfect married life that conforms to the ever-American family ideal.
The Responses of their Adversaries
“What is wrong with these traditionalists?” wonder those who are on the right side of history. When will they come around to see how genuine, tame, and moral gay couples are? Maybe it would be more worthwhile to ask traditionalists (especially religious ones) when they will recognize that they have more in common with “traditional” queers than with the capitalistically informed American values which the new gay rights movement has appropriated to their marriages?
The traditional queers wanted nothing to do with normalcy. They never asked for the privilege of being deemed “moral” by the mainstream culture. In fact, they prided themselves on their courage to push the boundaries of normalcy by engaging in behaviors that they themselves deemed to be immoral. If anything, they at least have in common with traditional Christians the notion that homosexual acts are immoral and hardly constitute a regular marriage.
The more dirty, the more fun
Christians, of all people, should take this as an opportunity to affirm that the bourgeois American ideal of marriage hardly fits the sacramental understanding of marriage that has existed since well before the establishment of America. The values of the “land of the free and the home of the brave” sharply contrast with the those of traditional Christians because their true “Home” cannot be found on earth, let alone in capitalistic and emotivist notions of morality.
Thou shalt purchase a new state of the art kitchen set for the family
Traditional queers also find it hard to call the ideals of bourgeoise America their home. The premise of queerness rests upon ideals that push beyond the bounds of what proper society calls normal. In this sense, both Christians and queers seek transcendence through (radically different) ideals that transgress the norms of comfortable materialism. Maybe Christians can start to engage gay people on this level, rather than condemning their fallacious notions of what constitutes a marriage.
On the other hand, Christians can also strive to propagate its own “queer” practices and lifestyles. For Catholics this should be easy. The Church’s history of monasticism, its sacramental theology, and odd rituals ranging from kissing a vial of a dead person’s blood to processing through the streets wearing gilded regalia and a silver-encased piece of bread are all strange enough to make even the most “open minded” of WASP moms clutch their pearls. Maybe this could be a place to begin a dialogue with queers…and anyone else who is bored with the norms of bourgeoise American life.
Christians are such squares