Back in the Victorian Era, when Edward was still prince, his lover, Mrs. Patrick Campbell commented on the country house scene by saying that one could do anything there, as long as one didn’t do it outside and scare the horses.
That expresses my attitude toward homosexuality — and, not incidentally, used to express the attitude of my church, the Episcopal Church, too. (Church organists comprise a virtual gay guild in New England.) I have gay friends now. I have always had gay friends. You cannot pursue a life in the arts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston, as I have, and not have gay friends. I have had friends who declared that they were homosexual, and then decided that no, they weren’t.
Fine and dandy. I just don’t want to think about it too much. Most of America doesn’t, either.
These remarks are occasioned, of course, by the flap in the commentariat over Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s saying to an AP reporter, in re an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case on Texas sodomy laws, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”
An AP editor inserted the word “gay” in parenthesis between “consensual” and “sex,” and the full-throat media flap set off in galumphing, self-righteous chase. (The Texas case arose from the arrest of two gay men caught in the act when police broke in to a house; the cops had been falsely tipped that a crime was in progress by the former boyfriend of one of the two participants.) Never mind that the controversy raged over something that Santorum did not say, but that an editor made it look like he did. Never mind that the Senator had simply restated the decision of Supreme Court Justice Byron White in the 1986 case, Bowers vs. Hardwick (the classic “slippery slope” argument). No, nothing must get in the way of a good pompous media roar.
But this little hurricane fizzled, in fact. Last week, I mentioned the controversy to my wife — it was already more than a week old — and found that Sally didn’t know a thing about it. She hadn’t read the original news story, hadn’t read Andrew Sullivan’s bloviations, hadn’t read Stanley Kurtz, or Jonah Goldberg or Ellen Goodman or indeed anybody, hadn’t heard a thing about it on NPR (and you can’t avoid NPR when you commute by car in Boston). And Sally’s a very well-informed, sophisticated, and accomplished woman.
I suspect that most Americans, like Sally, have no idea that anything’s going on here at all, the disconnect between media obsession and everyday life being near-total.
Stanley Kurtz on National Review Online opines, however, that that will change in a few months, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decides to legalize gay marriage. That will make gay marriage a national issue, he says, and splatter it all over the election of 2004. And that hurricane won’t fizzle.
That brings the Ick Factor into play. We saw it in the last election, when the Democrats turned Senator Paul Wellstone’s memorial service into a campaign rally. A caller to a Minneapolis radio talk show summarized the public reaction neatly: “Ick,” she said.
We saw it in the 1994 Republican stampede, when Newt Gingrich brilliantly nationalized Democratic positions on (among other things) homosexuality, abortion, and gun control. The nation as a whole, confronted with the “progressive” agenda, said “Ick” and voted in a Republican House.
If Kurtz is right — and I think he is — Democratic candidates from President on down will be whipped into making all kinds of statements in support of gay marriage, into making appearances at gay activist rallies, into endorsing the nationwide honoring of gay marriage reciprocally from state to state. If Republicans are smart, they’ll follow President Bush’s lead, and mostly just say nothing while the Dems kick the Tar Baby.
And the American people, bombarded from the airwaves, will recoil in their Barcaloungers and change the channel, saying, “Ick! Go ‘way! Just shut up about it, already!”
Unfortunately for the Democrats, shutting up represents the one thing political activists just can’t do. Even when they’re making a ruckus outside and scaring the horses.