Politics & Policy

An Amazing Pass

One minute, we're talking about tolerance for homosexuals; the next, we're watching them marry.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the November 8, 2004, issue of National Review.

The final weeks of the presidential campaign are filled with talk of homosexuality, specifically the vice president’s daughter. Beyond and behind this, of course, is the recent sight of homosexual couples lining up to receive marriage licenses. How did it ever come to this, while most of the country was hoping not to have to pay attention?

Not so many years have passed between the moment that New Yorkers were both bemused and amused to learn that their city would have an annual softball game between the cops and the homosexuals, and the day when those couples lined up to receive their licenses. Not so many years, that is, for a cultural journey as vast as the one that took American society from the decision not to persecute homosexuals to the point of the enthusiastic embrace of them. The time seems especially brief considering that in the years between these two phenomena we saw the spread of a new — and hideous and fatal — disease that resulted from the corresponding spread of a kind of blind and heedlessly driven homosexual promiscuity.

At first, we may remember, denizens of the high culture, fearing that the new spirit of sexual enlightenment might be dampened by the news of this disease, AIDS, tried to tell us that everyone — homosexual and heterosexual alike — was in danger of being struck by the disease. It became a mark of high civic spirit to demand that the government devote whatever resources would prove to be necessary to finding a cure. When the claim that everyone was at risk turned out to be untrue — virtually the only heterosexuals in danger of contracting AIDS were careless intravenous drug-users (at least in the West) — a public show of deep compassion for — indeed the beatification of — those who were afflicted became the new propriety, if not, indeed, the new piety. AIDS was now to be seen as a cruel fate, like a lightning bolt, rather than the result of who knows how many nights and how many blind encounters in those so-exclusive bars and bathhouses. And to speak a word of truth in the face of all that very real suffering would have been considered insufferably cruel. So AIDS was duly given a place on the good people’s list of injustices, where its real meaning could be overlooked.

After all, Americans in general are nice people, probably the nicest in the world, afraid of mean-spiritedness in others, and perhaps even more afraid of the accusation of being mean-spirited themselves. Now, it took them a long, long time to get around to dealing with their country’s shameful conduct toward black people; and it is as if the shame of those years, indeed those centuries, of living comfortably with the crimes committed against the country’s blacks has left them quite disarmed in the face of any and all charges of injustice or bigotry, whatever the merits. So it was, for instance, that the country was all too easily mobilized by a largely meretricious campaign to undo the alleged historic wrongs against women. (Insofar as women could rightly claim to be suffering from special disadvantages, nature itself had decreed them, after all, and it was only an unprecedented degree of national wealth combined with the wonders of medical technology that would make it possible to overcome them.) In any case, just as a group of militant women had piggy-backed their so-called cause onto that of the civil-rights revolution, so the homosexuals were almost inevitably next in line with a movement of their own.

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