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Gay marriage: the ultimate scapegoat

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, December 5, 2008 4:37 EDT
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I’m sort of stunned, but here it is (via Figleaf)—a conservative who makes a valid point in an otherwise silly rant based on traditional ideas about forcing people to suffer for “morality”. He’s trying to parse out why voters are pro-choice but still anti-same sex marriage even though reproductive rights and same sex marriage are both ways for oppressed people to reach for the brass ring of liberty against traditional sexual patriarchal oppression morality. His conclusion is that there’s a lot of self-interested straight people who see gays as a good scapegoat:

Some heterosexuals who have at least a grudging respect for traditional sexual morality are more keen to see it respected by others than to practice it themselves. (Think e.g. of the secularized Beltway conservative think-tank or journalist type who heartily endorses pragmatic Burkean arguments for the social utility of stigmas against fornication and the like, but who nevertheless lives with his girlfriend.) Hence, while it costs such people little or nothing personally to vote against “same-sex marriage,” limitations on abortion might put a crimp on their own lifestyle should their less-than-conservative personal sexual behavior “punish them with a baby.”

Or a disfiguring back alley abortion. Let’s not be coy—there’s many ways to punish fornicating women by criminalizing abortion, and forcing them to give birth against their will is but part of the constellation of horrible outcomes. But I begrudgingly accept that there’s some truth to the fact that gays and lesbians have become a convenient scapegoat for all sorts of straight people who have absorbed negative messages about sexuality disguised as “morality”, but who nonetheless desire to protect themselves against the ravages of said “morality”. It’s good to see a conservative admit what I’ve said repeatedly, which is that many if not most self-professed conservatives don’t actually have the values they state in their own lives. Self-preservation is too strong an urge, and so “family values” conservatives prefer other people to suffer for the patriarchy, and they themselves indulge in contraception, divorce, abortion, and pre-marital sex as they see fit. And to a degree, good for them. Sacrificing people on the altar of misanthropic “values” increasingly strikes me as nothing but sadism disguised as spirituality. The difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to sexual values systems is not the values they have for themselves, but what they want to force on others. Which is why the vast majority of conservative demur on the subject of divorce, except for a few angry, bitter men who think the law does owe it to them to hold their unhappy wives hostage.

There’s a great interview in Salon with author Richard Rodriguez, who argues precisely this—that gays and lesbians are a way for socially conservative people to both express their destructive values but not have to immolate themselves with these values.

American families are under a great deal of stress. The divorce rate isn’t declining, it’s increasing. And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people — it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

Obviously, some conservative churches are on the warpath against women and reproductive rights, but they’re forced to couch this opposition in romantic language about family values and avoid demonizing women directly. Look at the way that Bristol Palin was treated, which is common now in evangelical communities. I have no doubt the old school Bible thumpers would rather just eject young women who stray from the community as they used to do, but they’re in a precarious situation and they know it. However, gays and lesbians are a small minority that’s mostly removed itself from these specific pews anyway. They are outsiders and can be used to scapegoat and demagogue without nearly the same resistance from the pews.

Of course, as gays and lesbians gain visibility, this blatant bigotry is getting harder to swallow.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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