In this week’s news, an allegedly “anti-gay” state senator was outed after being arrested on a DUI after leaving a gay bar in California. I hope we can all agree that driving drunk is objectionable and that frequenting gay bars, if that’s your thing, is not. One might be tempted, then, to conclude that people should care about the DUI and not the venue. But I suppose there’s no point in trying to wish away human nature.
What interests me in all this is the promiscuous use of the adjectives “anti-gay” and “hypocritical”. The senator seems to be charged with three counts of anti-gayness, with hypocrisy as an aggravating circumstance. First, he opposes anti-discrimination laws. Second, he opposes gay marriage. Third, he opposes an official day of recognition for gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
Now let’s take these one at a time.
- I share the senator’s opposition to anti-discrimination laws. If that makes me anti-gay, you can also label me anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-Republican and anti-economist, because I support your right to discriminate against those groups as well. I support your rights not to date economists, not to drink with economists, and not to hire economists. I do not believe that makes me anti-economist and I do not believe it makes me a hypocrite.
Now you might or might not think that the analogy between gays and economists, or the analogy between dating and hiring, is seriously flawed. We’ve had that discussion in comments elsewhere on this blog, I don’t propose to repeat it here. Here I’m asking you only to accept that some people (me, for example) find these analogies compelling and therefore share the outed senator’s position on discrimination law without bearing any animus toward gays.
Moreover, as far as I am aware, there is no known correlation between sexual orientation and susceptibility to argument by analogy. Therefore, a gay man who shares my position ought not be suspected of hypocrisy.
- Next, we have the issue of gay marriage. I am for gay marriage. I am for polyamorous marriage. I am for marriage between three gay men, two eunuchs and a bull dyke. I am for recognition and enforcement of pretty much any lifestyle contract that consenting adults want to enter into. But I also have dear friends who oppose gay marriage, and I am quite sure that their opposition is not motivated by animus toward gays.
I have one friend, for example, who has proved himself over many years to be one of the world’s great celebrators of diversity, but who opposes gay marriage because he fears that gays, moreso than straights, will game the system by marrying or unmarrying as needed to secure tax advantages. Straights might do the same, but they will do it less because they’re more likely to be locked into marriages through childbearing. I happen to think this argument is completely nuts. (For the record, I think my friend is absolutely right that gays will game the system somewhat more than straights will, and that that’s a bad thing. I just think he’s absolutely nuts to put quite so much weight on it.) But everyone I know believes at least ten things that I think are completely nuts. I do not jump to the conclusion that they believe those things because they are hostile or angry or anti-this-group-or-that. I think they believe these things because they are mistaken. (Or even possibly because they’re right and I’m mistaken.) And I don’t see any reason why gay people can’t be as easily mistaken as straight people. So I don’t see any reason why gay people can’t, like my friend, consistently, honestly, and non-hypocritically, oppose gay marriage, even while lamenting the hardships a marriage ban imposes on themselves, their partners and their friends.
Or take Megan McArdle (a/k/a Jane Galt), who I do not know personally, but who has moved me with a clearly heartfelt account of her reasons for equivocating on the marriage issue. I don’t share her equivocation, but regarding her motivations, I think it would be insanely uncharitable to take her at anything other than her word.
- As for the third issue, the Harvey Milk Appreciation Day, this is just, of course, a bit of silliness. There are all sorts of reasons someone might think the calendar is already too cluttered with Appreciation Days. I would not even vote for an Isaac Newton appreciation day, and whatever you might think of Harvey Milk, he surely did less for the world than Isaac Newton. Someone else might disagree. And again, I don’t see any reason why your sexual orientation should influence your opinion on this matter.
So I think it would be good if everyone lightened up on the accusations and on the schadenfreude. The twin tragedies here are that a man’s life has been upended and that we live in the sort of world where this kind of thing can upend your life.