The Meat of the Matter
A couple of months ago, via pre-recorded video, a gay soldier serving his country in Iraq asked the slate of Republican presidential contenders gathered for a debate whether they would try to reinstate "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."
Two noteworthy, and telling, things happened. First, the solider, Capt. Stephen Hill, a brave patriot who had put his life on the line for his nation, was booed by members of the audience when he outed himself as a gay man in uniform. The Republicans hoping for their party’s nomination for next year’s presidential election stood by mutely and let it happen--a scandalous non-response that earned them a spanking from Obama and the scorn of a public that, unlike the cretins who jeered Hill, possess some measure of gratitude for the service and sacrifice of America’s soldiers, gay or straight.
The second thing that happened, though, was even more disturbing. Asked to respond to Hill’s query, Rick Santorum gave an answer that had nothing to do with Hill’s service or that of any other gay or lesbian patriot.
Santorum said that he would reinstate DADT, stuffing gay patriots back into the closet even though three-quarters of the American public think gays should be able to serve openly; even though Congress voted to repeal the anti-gay law late last year; and even though there has been no sign of the tsunami of backlash from heterosexual troops that had been predicted by anti-gay lawmakers and DADT proponents.
That answer is problematic in and of itself, because it purports to fix something that clearly is not broken. Moreover, it’s a reactionary stance that gives greater credence to the anti-gay fringe than to the overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans who understand that being gay and serving in the military are not two antithetical states of being.
However, Santorum’s reason for the answer he gave was beyond troubling: The notoriously anti-gay former senator managed to be asinine, irrelevant, insulting, and jingoistic all at once. He said this: "[A]ny type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military."
Uh huh. And?
If Santorum’s point was that gay and straight servicemembers alike must follow the military’s uniform code of conduct, he is simply stating the obvious, and it is a non-sequitur at that. The question was whether the GOP contenders for the White House intended to reinstate DADT, not what any of them thought about sexual activity taking place between members of the military.
But those who rewarded Santorum’s spectacular example of demagoguery with applause seem not to have noticed that Santorum had reverted to his classic form, substituting one issue for another with statements that sidestep the important and serious questions about GLBT equality and draw deep from a well of anti-gay sentiment and slander. Rather than address the fact that gay soldiers were asked under DADT to tarnish their personal and professional integrity by lying about who they are to comrades in arms and commanding officers, Santorum started talking about sex.
Moreover, rather than acknowledging occasions on which gay and lesbian servicemembers have been kicked out of the Armed Forces because intrusive fellow servicemembers have snooped through their personal papers to find incriminating letters--and not because they didn’t follow the soul-searing dictates of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"--Santorum hinted that being gay is all about sexual activity, a talking point that the anti-gay fringe has exploited for decades even though it’s a false and hollow argument.
This is, of course, the same former lawmaker who once denigrated loving, stable, long-term relationships between gay and lesbian life partners by lumping together those close and tender bonds with "man on dog" sex.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. If a former senator is untroubled by the prospect of asking America’s bravest patriots to lie, perhaps it’s tied into the de facto lies that he’s telling: Lies to the effect that love between two committed persons of the same gender is somehow just another species of bestiality. Lies that gay troops will somehow sexualize their military service simply by being upfront about who they are and the gender of the person waiting for them back home.
For Stephen Hill and his husband, Joshua Snyder, lies that Santorum might find convenient are anything but. The Associated Press reported last week that Hill and Snyder are part of a lawsuit to press for the same benefits for the families of gay and lesbian troops as are granted to the families of heterosexual troops. The military claims that under the provisions of another anti-gay law, the so-called (and infuriatingly misnamed) "Defense of Marriage" Act, those benefits must be withheld from the families of gay troops--families that the anti-gay federal law denies legal existence.
Anti-gay prejudice is very real, and very much a part of our existing legal system. Irrational, illogical arguments like those on which Santorum relies to justify such laws may give those biased against gays a gut-level sense of satisfaction, but they advance no legitimate argument and offer no genuine protections, nor do they enjoy any basis in objective fact.
Instead, the anti-gay rhetoric Santorum and other powerful homophobes like to employ center around what you might call "the meat of the matter." They are entirely focused on sex--and, more specifically, genitalia. While the brave gay men and women who defend this nation are trying to talk about commitment and love--their commitment to, and love for, their country as well as for their same-sex significant other--Santorum and other anti-gay politicians, clerics, and activists insist on reducing the entire experience, and the entire identity, of gays to sex acts.
Asking someone like Rick Santorum whether he would abuse the office of the presidency to attack gays is a no-brainer. Of course he would. On the subject of gays, Santorum has shown himself to be deeply dishonest and fanatically prejudicial. A better question for Santorum might be why he can’t answer questions about gays with rational arguments that actually address the questions he’s asked. (Assuming, that is, that any rational arguments can be found to support his positions.)
Another good question for Santorum, and all anti-gay people in influential positions, might be this: Why are you so fixated on our sex organs and what we do with them? Who invited you to peer at our privates and finger the intimacies of our personal lives? Who told you that you have any right to subject us to such legislative groping?
Stephen Hill himself put it nicely when he told the AP, "This is not about sex.
"A special privilege is not hiding pictures in my house or God forbid, taking mortar fire again and not knowing if Josh will be recognized" in the event that Hill is killed in action.
In other words, Hill is talking about a relationship. He’s not talking about sex acts, the way Santorum is, the way the anti-gay side consistently does. All of this begs the simple question of who it is, exactly, that’s obsessed with sex and likely to turn everything in life into a sexual encounter of some sort, whether welcome or unwanted. I, for one, truly don’t think America has anything to fear from gays, whether or not they are in uniform. It’s the homophobes I wouldn’t want to be caught with in a dark corner of the supply closet or the foxhole.
"I’m fighting every day to protect everyone’s rights as human beings, and it seems counterintuitive for me to be fighting for those rights and not have them," Hill added.
But what use is it trying to talk about nebulous notions like rights to people who insist on shoving their hands down your pants?
Thankfully, Santorum’s campaign seems to be going nowhere. But what’s distressing is that it wasn’t just Santorum who stood by while Hill was being booed. And it’s not just Santorum who’s come out with an array of anti-gay statements from wanting to re-impose DADT to intending to pursue a Constitutional amendment that would eradicate legal marriage for gays everywhere instead of allowing the states to determine the issue for themselves. Almost all of the other GOP presidential contenders are on the same anti-gay page.
That is to say, it almost doesn’t matter who wins the Republican nomination and runs against Obama next year. He (or she, if Michelle Bachmann’s DOA campaign somehow revives itself) will, essentially, be marginalizing the majority of Americans (remember, 51% now support full marriage equality for gay and lesbian families) and legitimizing the homophobic fringe’s talking points by making them the official party line. It’s beyond alarming that the meat of the matter, in this case, isn’t the family life or love and commitment of families that gays are trying to talk about. It’s the anti-gay set salivating over the gay crotch.
Nothing’s worse than being fondled by some skeevy dude and then told that you like it when, in fact, you don’t like it at all. In legislative terms, this is essentially what gay America is facing from the GOP’s slate of presidential contenders. As for Santorum, he’s a symptom, not a cause; but he’s a symptom of such a disgusting malady that one fears for the future health of this nation.