Gay Politics: It’s 2001, Not 1890

David Tuller writing for Salon Magazine, the left-liberal bellweather, reports that "Virtually every gay person I know is distraught at the rise of the Bush-Cheney presidency and the passing of the gay-friendly Clinton-Gore administration." Leave aside whether this guy personally knows anyone who isn't distraught at the Bush presidency, and suppose that he is right.

Why would gays be upset at Bush? Is the new administration plotting some grand crackdown that would jail people for homosexual acts? Is it planning to send out the BATF to gay clubs to crack skulls? Is it preparing tanks to mow down gay churches or burn them to the ground? Is it agitating for a law that would prevent or otherwise punish private businesses and associations from hiring gays?

Of course not. In fact, Bush went out of his way during the campaign not to offend the gays. He uttered no statements that could be pigeon-holed into the anti-gay category. However, it is instructive to see precisely what Tuller considers to be anti-gay political positions: 1) opposing the extension of hate-crime law to covering gays, 2) cutting back funding for AIDS research, 3) permitting public schools to bar pro-gay seminars for students in the guise of AIDS education, and 4) opposing the extension of "civil rights" to gays at the federal level.

On the first point, including gays among those protected by hate-crime laws is a way of granting a statutory privilege that non-gays do not enjoy. It codifies the experience of victimhood and provides an aura of sanctity that the present political culture grants to official victims. A law that presumes that gays are constantly threatened with violence makes them martyrs to a cause even before they experience martyrdom.

On number two, Aids funding is already wildly out of proportion to the rest of federal health research money. Last year, the government spent $710 million on Aids care, $90 million on "early intervention" care, and $30 million on research-which far outstrips grants given to any other afflicted group excepting military veterans. For example, $100 million is spent on services for the blind and a mere $6 million is spent on care and finding cures for Alzheimers-two afflictions that are not, so far as anyone can tell, behaviorally "acquired." As Michael Fumento points out, heart disease kills four times as many yet receives only two-thirds the funding of Aids.

Even aside from these disproportionalities, why should the failure of the government to fund research on a particular medical affliction be considered a policy that favors that affliction? At best it means neutrality. Under a constitutional system of government, there would be no public funding for medical research, which, it turns out is the best system for finding cures: private enterprise works better than government planning in this area as with everywhere else.

As for pro-gay lectures in school that purport to be "Aids education" one can only marvel that parents and teachers put up with it at all. When told about these incidents, parents are likely to recall the words from the Gospels: "But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Many parents and teachers would at least like to stop these “seminars,” but they are preventing from doing so by the education bureaucrats who foist them on schools. If you follow the money and regulatory trail far enough, who doubts that it ultimately traces to Washington, DC?

Finally, to the ultimate agenda of the gay-rights lobby: to be included among the official victims in civil rights regulation. Clinton worked hard for this early in his first term, but it ultimately came to naught. Indeed, there is a strong case to be made against it. Neoconservatives point out that being gay is different from being black or female: it is a chosen status and thus should not be awarded with federal protection. But because that claim ultimately reduces to a debate about whether homosexuality is chosen or not, a libertarian argument is far stronger: the freedom of association includes the freedom not to associate, and, yes, that rule in a free society should apply on all matters, even those concerning race, sex, and religion.

A quick note on the issue of "gay marriage." Most gay spokesmen who favor this idea have already said that their marriage contracts must be completely unlike those that prevail in the straight world. Monogamy may satisfy the "breeder community," they say, but it would impose unnecessary constraints on them. But if that is so, why in the world would they be agitating for marriage at all except to gain some additional legal privileges? There is nothing in the present political world that is hindering two men from living together and affecting a family way, and they are perfectly free to negotiate terms of medical coverage with their employers. The only possible rationale for getting the State to bless their unions is to poke a sharp stick in the eye to mainstream America.

Thus we can see the sum total of the gay agenda involves foisting more government on society and more intervention in free enterprise. A libertarian is bound by political principle to oppose all of it. It is not the case that gays are threatened with violence from the State, and even those sodomy statutes that survive are not enforced. The threat to liberty runs exactly in the reverse. It is the gay lobby that is attempting to impose its will on bourgeois America by robbing them of their schools, their taxes, and their rights in order to subsidize a sexual preference. And they wonder why they are disliked by ordinary Americans!

The present situation is nearly a reversal from that of 100 years ago, when Oscar Wilde was legendarily imprisoned, bankrupted, and intellectually destroyed for his vices. This was a stupid and cruel action, especially given that the suffering he created in his private life, for his wife, kids, and friends, served as its own punishment. Meanwhile, the martyrdom of Wilde has served as key metaphor to inspire gay activism one-hundred years later (a fact which would horrify Wilde himself).

His accomplice in vice, Lord Alfred Douglas, later converted to a hard-shell Catholicism and joined the anti-sodomites in whipping up a public frenzy against practicing homosexuals. Only later in life, with his brilliant 1940 book Oscar Wilde: A Summing Up, did Douglas come around to a sane, libertarian position: homosexual acts are sins, not crimes like murder and theft, and should be neither punished nor subsidized by the law. Throwing people in prison for the offense ruins lives and create martyrs for the cause.

Many gays these days, all well-read in the trials of Oscar Wilde, would like to believe they are living in times like those confronted by Wilde during the Victorian Era, when any suggestion of homosexuality could lead to state persecution, a time when anyone who defended the human rights of Wilde or anyone associated with him was also suspected and regarded as someone to stay away from.

This is sheer fantasy, as only a casual look at popular culture reveals. My economist friend has jokingly said that he is considering becoming gay, but strictly as a career move. His comment highlights the extent to which today’s culture bends to the gay agenda.

Douglas favored the repeal of anti-sodomy statutes, yet he already noticed before his death that anti-gay sentiment was backfiring to create a cultural chic for gay living. Fifty years later, this chic has mutated into another intolerable legal situation. Far from being persecuted, the gay lifestyle is celebrated by official culture and the regime. It is those who point out merely what Douglas pointed out, that the practice is a vice, who are today suspected of hate criminality and generally derided as Philistines. Discriminating against gays leads to prosecution in many cities and states in this country-a situation that is at least as contrary to liberty as anti-sodomy laws themselves.

Where are the groups that will stand for the pure libertarian stance?: no State involvement in private vices and virtues, neither favoring them nor opposing them. The task of the law is to deal with crime, which means aggression against person or property. So long as the State asserts its own omni-competence, it will stir up cultural and political battles that vacillate between two extremes of error. But because we live in 2001 and not 1890, the side of liberty is with the forces that are working to oppose special privileges for gays in the law.

January 23, 2001

Jeffrey Tucker is general editor at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

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