John Derbyshire On Homosexual Marriage: Could The Pendulum Swing Back?


At a Library of Congress function some years ago I encountered the well-known British historian Paul Johnson. This was not long after Michael Fumento’s 1990 book The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS came out, and people were still discussing that issue. I asked Johnson whether homosexuality would one day be seen as perfectly normal.

It might, he allowed—but it could also be the case, for all anybody knows, that fifty years in the future we shall be burning homosexuals at the stake: “You can’t second-guess History.”

This may not seem the most obvious reaction to the wall-to-wall triumphalist Main Stream Media [MSM] coverage of this week’s U.S. Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage. But it is worth remembering that pendulums swing both ways.

Of course, it is depressing to compare the progress made by the patriotic immigration movement with the progress made by homosexual activists.

When VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow published Alien Nation in 1995, twenty states still had anti-sodomy laws on the books. It was a mere nine years since Chief Justice Warren Burger`s opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick: “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching…” etc.

Now, two further nine-year spans on from 1995, the homosexualist cause has advanced with astonishing speed, to the point where the U.S. Supreme Court is solemnly pondering whether homosexual marriage is required by the Fourteenth Amendment.

If the speeds of advance of the two causes had been reversed, we would still today have anti-sodomy laws in twenty states, but we would have an Israeli-style fence along our entire southern border, a foolproof visa monitoring program, universal compulsory E-Verify, birthright citizenship annulled by either congressional action or constitutional amendment; and, of course, an immigration moratorium.

Talk about being on the wrong side of history!

The contrast is even more striking if you consider that immigration restriction is, or ought to be, a much less emotional matter than sexuality and marriage.

From a viewpoint of, say, thirty years ago an American might have supposed that constitutional accommodation of homosexuality would be fought over with much heat and passion, while the control of voluntary population inflows could be debated in a spirit of calm rationality.

You would expect people to feel really strongly about their teenage sons being taken off on a camping trip in the woods by an openly homosexual scoutmaster. But the requirement for skilled foreign workers ought to be a matter of cold arithmetic.

But well-nigh the opposite has been the case. The public has acquiesced meekly to the normalization of homosexuality, while immigration restriction has been fought with venomous passion.

Why? Possible explanations:

  • Immigration restriction would cost major businesses a lot of money by tightening the labor market. Homosexual “rights” are probably a wash economically.
  • With homosexuals at three or four percent of the population, they are also a wash politically. Just legal immigration at current levels increases the population by three percent—equal to the entire homosexual cohort—in less than ten years. And recent immigrants vote overwhelmingly Democrat, explaining the party’s enthusiasm for Electing A New People.
  • Aversion to homosexuality, while frowned on by the Overclass, none the less has religious sanction, which still counts for something in the U.S.A. Scriptures of the major religions have little to say about immigration (although not quite nothing). This might have worked against the homosexuals and in favor of immigration patriots—except for the dramatic Political Correctness infection of church bureaucrats, especially in the major denominations, which has essentially reversed the effect.
  • Immigration restriction is easily smeared as racism, which has been propagandized over the past half-century as an evil beyond compare, motivated by “hate.” You can work up a thesis that disapproval of homosexuality is likewise driven by “hate,” based on scattered incidents of violence, but it’s more of a stretch, and some “anti-racists” think the comparison is offensive because it trivializes their pet cause.
  • The dominant current ethic of Cultural Marxism—“Who? Whom?”—demands sympathy for the Whom, the oppressed, the victim. Both homosexuals and immigrants can plausibly be cast in that role: homosexuals, because of the social disapproval they labored under in most times and places until a few years ago, immigrants because “they come here to better themselves,” their former lives in their home countries having presumably been wretched.

Given that Cultural Marxist association, it is not very surprising to find that homosexual activism was one of the “ugly roots” of immigration enthusiasm listed by James Fulford in his classic March 4, 2013 piece here on VDARE.com.

In strict logic the two issues are orthogonal: you might take any position on the one without your position on the other being inconsistent. In political practice there is, as James showed, strong linkage.

The source of that linkage is not hard to find. In Tuesday’s hearing before the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia asked lawyer Theodore Olson when it had become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage: “1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted? Was it always unconstitutional?”

Olson replied that “when we as a culture determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control” then at that point limiting marriage became unconstitutional.

Supreme Court hints that it won`t issue sweeping ruling on same-sex marriage, By Tom Curry, National Affairs Writer, NBC News, March 27, 2013

While by no means conceding the marriage point, I believe Olson identified there the main factor in the swift relaxing of attitudes to homosexuality: a change in thinking about human nature, a more punctilious distinguishing between what we do and what we are. Homosexuality, in the common perception, shifted decisively from the former zone to the latter.

Thence also the linkage with race and immigration issues. Probably the black Civil Rights movement did most of the work.

But there was always awareness at some level that homosexuality “is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control.” I can remember people in the 1950s saying “they can’t help it.”

And one’s race or place of birth is likewise beyond one’s control. Yet Jim Crow and “national origin” immigration rules, like social disapproval of homosexuality, lived on into the 1960s—because people feared social disruptions if they were ended.

The root of that fear was a belief that, while particular individuals might come out anywhere on the character distribution—“Joe? Oh, he’s all right”—homosexuals in the generality, or blacks in the generality, or foreigners in the generality, displayed innate group characteristics that made their social equality problematic.

At last, though, imposing social disabilities on citizens because of characteristics “that they cannot control” came to be seen as unacceptably unfair, and the old reservations were swept away.

Except where they weren’t. Social disabilities are sometimes imposed for indisputably necessary reasons, even on people who can’t help their condition. Blind people can’t help their blindness, but we don’t let them become airline pilots. I suppose our reluctance to do so is nowadays a species of “hate.”

Let’s not forget, either, that once you start rethinking human nature, you are swimming in very deep waters. To take an extreme example: Some well-credentialed experts in the relevant fields believe that psychopathy may be a “characteristic of individuals that they cannot control.” How do you normalize that?

A stable society must be hedged around with such minor restrictions. The dream of unbridled equality is irrational fantasy. That it has come to drive much of our social policy is a great calamity for America.

Senator John Tester, a Democrat from Montana, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that: “No one should be able to tell a Montanan or any American who they can love and who they can marry.”

Nonsense. The laws of my own state rightly impose quite emphatic restrictions:

A marriage may not take place in New York State between an ancestor and descendant, siblings (full or half blood), an uncle and niece or nephew or an aunt and niece or nephew, regardless of whether or not these persons are legitimate or illegitimate offspring.

There is not, anywhere in the United States, any legal or constitutional issue as to whether or not citizens should be restricted in “who they can love and who they can marry”; nor could there be. The issues only concern what the restrictions ought to be. How many Americans, actually, outside the ranks of NAMBLA activists and the like, disagree with this?

What is now nearly unsayable is that there were good and strong reasons for the old social disapproval of homosexuality. In the matter of male homosexuality, there was the epidemiological issue. The dreadful AIDS plague, for instance, was spread mainly by promiscuous homosexual buggery. That is also in the unsayable zone. But it is true none the less.

Nor is AIDS the only epidemiological issue. Homosexual men suffered disproportionately from many ailments long before AIDS came up.

And epidemiology-wise, there is always something new out of the homosexual subculture:

A deadly meningitis outbreak in NYC is significantly impacting gay men. New York health officials are recommending every sexually active gay man not in a monogamous relationship to get a meningitis vaccination immediately.

[Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Hits NYC Gay Community, The Inquisitor, March 23, 2013]

Homosexual activists counter by saying that the normalization of homosexual marriage will reduce the epidemiological issues.

There are reasons to doubt that (encapsulated in this ancient joke). But homosexual marriage, with the adoption of children by homosexual couples, introduces new social negatives.

For example, any children raised by adults not their biological parents are more likely to suffer abuse—the well-known “boyfriend problem.” [Child abuse by mothers` boyfriends: Why the overrepresentation?, by Leslie Margolin, Child Abuse & Neglect, July–August 1992]

Having kids around the house is stressful enough. Remove the soothing consolation that, “Oh well, darn it, they’re my own flesh and blood,” to say nothing of the incest taboo, and there is bound to be some increase in physical abuse.

For those of us on the Dissident Right, however, there’s a stronger reason to take a stand against the normalization of homosexuality in general, and homosexual marriage in particular: it reinforces the soft totalitarianism that is threatening our independence of thought.

The push for homosexual marriage is—above and beyond any legal, constitutional, epidemiological, or pediatric issues—a battle in the Cold Civil War being fought all over the West between adherents of two different conceptions of morality, striving against each other for social supremacy.

Brendan O’Neill pointed this out last year:

The bizarre emptying-out of political debate from the issue of gay marriage, and its transformation instead into a clear-cut moral matter that separates the good from the bad, shows what its backers really get out of it—a moral buzz, a rush of superiority as they declare, to anyone who will listen, that they are For Gay Marriage. In this sense, supporting gay marriage has become less a declaration of truly democratic instincts and more a kind of provocation.

[Gay marriage is now the issue through which the elite advertises its superiority over the redneck masses; Daily Telegraph (London), March 6, 2012.]

And Bradley Miller laid out these downstream social negatives in more detail a few months later, surveying Canada’s ten-year experience of homosexual marriage. The thing was not very consequential in itself, Miller says—only one in three hundred of Canadian marriages are homosexual—but the indirect effects on liberty have been dire:

Much speech that was permitted before same-sex marriage now carries risks. Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals. Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly. Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage.

[Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada, The Public Discourse, November 5th, 2012. Some links added.]

James Antle made a related point in The American Spectator:

In many respects, the problem with gay marriage isn’t gay marriage—that is, the act of gays and lesbians holding wedding ceremonies and receiving marriage licenses from the state. The larger problem is the belief that the tradition of marriage being between a man and a woman is hateful, that it is indistinct from prohibitions on interracial marriage.

[Speak Now, Or Forever Hold Your Peace; July-August, 2012 issue.]

There is the real danger. Continued opposition to the complete normalization of homosexuality will be stifled under the noxious cant words of ideological orthodoxy: “bigotry,” “hate,” “supremacist,” and the rest. And just as chilling as the stifling itself will be the knowledge that it can be done.

My view: Legalization of homosexual marriage will be a victory for the Tolerance Fascists. They will know this, and be heartened to attempt further advances in other areas. Patriotic immigration reformers will be at or near the top of their target list.

The three or four percent of the population that is homosexual will have arguably enjoyed a tiny increase in their freedoms. But for the rest of us, the zones of ideas we may discuss and opinions we may respectably hold will have shrunk yet further.

And malign power-hungry forces in our society will have been heartened and strengthened.

For a glimpse of what is already possible, note the case of New York Emergency Medical Services Lieutenant Timothy Dluhos, who posted some off-color remarks about blacks, Jews, and Chinese on Twitter. On Monday this week Dluhos was, in the smug words of the New York Post itself, “outed by The Post as a racist.” He was promptly suspended by his employer, and:

NYPD cops confiscated two rifles owned by the 34-year-old dad, who had bragged online about the arsenal of weapons he kept at his Staten Island home, a law-enforcement source said. He had permits for both weapons, the source said.

[FDNY Honchos Slap EMS Twit, New York Post, March 25, 2013; my italics.]

So the police can already walk in and remove your Second Amendment rights for referring to the Mayor of New York as “King Heeb,” or for expressing such thoughts as: “[Expletive] Chinks can’t drive.”

But, to return to my opening point, the casual Overclass triumphalism illustrated by stories like that may very well be misplaced. Nothing grows to the sky. The faith that present trends will continue indefinitely is historically naïve.

I have noted elsewhere the slow swing of History’s pendulum.

In England the easygoing flamboyance of the late Tudors and early Stuarts gave way to Cromwell’s Puritans, who yielded to the license of the Restoration, which was muted somewhat by the First Great Awakening, then degenerated into Regency libertinism, which was smothered by the Victorians. (Much of the fun of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels is watching Fraser’s hero surf the transition from the second-last to last of those eras.)

[Plus ça Change, Taki’s Magazine, March 14, 2013.]

Volatility works both ways. If homosexual marriage went from unthinkable to majority approval in less than one generation, it might go back the same way just as quickly.

“You can’t second-guess History,” Paul Johnson said.

But you can stand in opposition to historical trends that have obviously malign consequences: to uncontrolled mass immigration, to the “casting aside” of “millennia of moral teaching,” and to the triumphalism of an arrogant Overclass bent on stamping out all dissent.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.

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