Getting all worked up thinking about years wasted arguing over the wrong thing.

Today I talked to a man who just celebrated his 25th anniversary with the same guy, and it just pissed me off. Not over the anniversary, of course, but over the fact that they’re not able to get legally married in their home state, and thousands of people are just fine with that. And over the fact that he used the word “partner” when “husband” is both appropriate and more natural. (But that may have been his choice; to each his own).

It didn’t seem to get him as angry as it got me — either he’s used to it after so many years, or else he realized that a barber shop isn’t the place to get angry even if you weren’t preaching to the choir.

Still, it got me thinking a lot about that phrase: “so many years.” How much time has been wasted arguing over something that’s simply, blatantly unfair? Every time someone — with the best intentions, usually — says that change will come in time, I just think of the dozens of photos I’ve seen of 60-to-80-year old couples coming out of courthouses finally able to get married, and I think about how many years they had to wait.

There’s a post on one of the Time magazine blogs today, pointing out Rick Perry’s comments about homosexuality in a book he published in 2008:

“Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink,” he wrote. “And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.”

In “On My Honor,” Perry also punted on the exact origins of homosexuality. He wrote that he is “no expert on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate,” but that gays should simply choose abstinence. Perry’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether he maintains this view.

It got referenced on the Washington Post‘s site, again calling out Perry for his comments in that book.

Both posts fault Perry’s campaign for keeping silent on the issue, not making a more public response to his comments. I think both are missing the point almost as much as Perry is: he’s already felt the need to clarify to the Family Research Council that his anti-gay rights agenda hasn’t been stringent enough. To one audience, he tries to frame it as an issue of state’s rights; to another, he says of course same sex marriage is wrong and that’s why we need a federal constitutional amendment.

I don’t know why the bald-faced hypocrisy of gay rights opponents always surprises me. They claim it’s an issue of federalism and then propose Constitutional amendments or federal policy like the DOMA to oppose it. They complain that gay rights activists are trying to “redefine” marriage, and they respond by instituting state laws or constitutional amendments to define marriage as being for heterosexuals only. Fuckwits like Rick Santorum claim that everyone knows what marriage is, and that’s right. Everyone including millions of homosexuals, who know what marriage is, and who want to be married some day.

So calling out Perry for remarks in a three-year-old book is missing the point; you don’t have to dig that hard. Of course he’s against gay rights: he’s a GOP presidential candidate passing himself off as a populist. It’s not even Bachmann’s glassy-eyed refusal to comment on her earlier homophobic writings. Perry’s said what he thinks, and it’s a direct, almost cartoonish, regurgitation of the boilerplate Republican agenda. Hell, it’s not at all far removed from Obama’s comments on gay rights, and he’s frequently, bafflingly, praised as if he were some kind of champion of equality.

But back to the statements that Time quoted: it’s the typical nature-vs-nurture question, and I can’t help but wonder how many years have been wasted arguing over whether being gay is a “choice.” I can remember reading comments like Perry’s from at least seven years ago: “Okay, so maybe people are born gay. But even if you are, you can still choose your behavior.” You can’t help being gay, but you don’t have to act gay. You can (and should) be abstinent. Or even more helpful, you can change, and no longer “indulge” in the “gay lifestyle.”

That’s what self-described conservatives (and most organized churches, come to think of it) are calling compassion now. Even though it’s been almost forty years since the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness, people can keep talking about it as if they were. And getting a pass on it, because they’re being politically correct by acknowledging it may be innate.

Here’s the thing, though: “Born this way” is total, absolute bullshit. Not in the sense that it’s false, but in the sense that it’s totally, absolutely irrelevant.

The issue isn’t whether it’s changeable, but whether it’s harmful. That and equality are the only relevant questions in any discussion about gay rights. Can someone choose to be abstinent? Sure, but first you have to explain why they should. Can a gay man or woman choose to marry an opposite-sex partner and have children? Yes, but you’re going to have to explain why that’s inherently better than marrying someone they’re actually attracted to and in love with.

So often, these people have tried to claim that same-sex couples have the responsibility to prove to everyone else that their relationship is healthy. That’s just plain un-American. It’s the responsibility of the people trying to write inequality into law to prove that the relationships they’re banning are unhealthy. (And they’ve got to do it without the aid of a book that can’t be used as the basis of United States law, because not everybody in the US follows the teachings of that book).

I have to wonder if the anti-gay groups have purposefully kept the issue of a genetic basis for homosexuality in the forefront of the discussion, because it’s dominated every discussion of gay rights, for years. And it’s been an effective obfuscation and stalling tactic. Keep people talking about whether it’s genetic or not, and you can make it seem like it’s a complicated, nuanced issue with multiple sides and a lot of room for debate. You don’t have to address the question of equality, and you don’t have to reveal the truth: that you’ve got no valid, rational, non-religious-based opposition.

Maybe I’m just being cynical, and the years of argument over nature-vs-nurture hasn’t just been a total waste of time. Maybe it’s not a tragedy that couples have died while waiting for other people to decide whether they were genetically predisposed to love each other. Maybe it was worthwhile to get people used to the idea that people don’t just arbitrarily decide to go gay for a weekend ’cause it sounds like fun. Even the homophobes these days have to acknowledge that homosexuality is innate so that they can claim that they’re not homophobic; it’s finally entrenched itself in politically correct speech. Maybe the couples who are actually affected by the bigots are spending their time just being couples instead of getting themselves worked up about what anybody else thinks.

But if it takes another forty years of people being treated unfairly while bigots keep insisting they’re not bigots, that would be a tragedy.

8 thoughts on “Choices”

  1. You’re (obviously) absolutely right. I was only 13 or 14 when gay marriage became legal in my country (back in 2001, I live in the Netherlands), but I can still remember how [i]angry[/i] some people got about that. I could never understand how you could feel so much hatred against other people doing something that makes them happy. Something that doesn’t affect them in any way. And now, ten years later, it’s obvious that gay marriage will never become illegal again. Sure, some people are still against it, but it’s pretty much part of Dutch culture now. There’s even a sort of pride in the fact that we were the first country to legalize it.

    It’s weird looking at the US these days (the gay rights issue in the US is followed very closely over here). We, like many Americans, just can’t understand why this is taking so long. There’s one thing I can promise you (something you already know): when it will get legalized in the US, it won’t take long until people start looking back with disgust at these years of endless debate. As long as gay people aren’t allowed something as simple as declaring their love for each other by marriage, they’ll always be second-rate citizens. It’s as simple as that, and that is, as you said, a tragedy.

  2. Something to look forward to when I’m fifty, I suppose. Admittedly, a big part of what gets me angry is thinking about all the years in my 20s and early 30s that I wasted, convinced I’d be able to fix something that never needed to be fixed.

  3. “Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink.” If it means anything, Rick Perry is completely wrong about the nature of alcohol dependency, too.

  4. Strange; I just assumed Perry was a mental health professional, since he so clearly knows exactly what it’s like to be a gay person.

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