Monthly Archives: April 2003

I wasn’t planning on writing about the repellent Rick Santorum much at all, save perhaps in passing. But I hadn’t considered that the equally egregious William Saletan would weigh in as he has in Slate in a column entitled with typical Beltway “daring” Incest Repellent? , subtitled “If gay sex is private, why isn’t incest?”

Why isn’t it? He’ll pretend to tell you.

“This week, the Associated Press published an interview with Rick Santorum, the third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate. Referring to a pending case involving sodomy laws, Santorum argued, ‘If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] 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.’

David Smith, the communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading gay rights organization, accused Santorum of ‘disparaging an entire group of Americans.’ ‘He’s advocating that a certain segment of American society be disavowed from constitutional protection,’ Smith charged. ‘The outrageous thing … is he put being gay on the same legal and moral plane as a person who commits incest. That is repugnant in our view and not right.’

Why not?

Let’s leave adultery and polygamy out of it for the moment. Let’s set aside morality and stick to law.

Oh, let’s not.

Saletan knows perfectly well that Santorum, like all Republicans, is committed to using the law as a weapon against carefully selected enemies of their version of “morality.” Adultery won’t do because so many Republicans engage in it as a means of acquiring a second — or in the case of Newt Gingrich even a third — wife. And polygamy would drag Mormonism into the discussion. Saletan doesn’t want to do that. He’s only interested in asserting Heterosexual Privilege — and putting those uppitty faggots in their place. But not in so “vulgar” a fashion as Santorum.


“And let’s grant that being attracted to a gender is more fundamental than being attracted to a family member.”

What did I tell you?

“Santorum sees no reason why, if gay sex is too private to be banned, the same can’t be said of incest. Can you give him a reason?”

Tons. But there’s the pesky problem of how “private” sexuality — any form of sexuality — might be in this culture as presently constituted.

“The easy answer—that incest causes birth defects—won’t cut it. Birth defects could be prevented by extending to sibling marriage the rule that five states already apply to cousin marriage: You can do it if you furnish proof of infertility or are presumptively too old to procreate. If you’re in one of those categories, why should the state prohibit you from marrying your sibling?”

The easy answer is that there is no mass movement for sibling marital rights as there has been for gay and lesbian marriage. And behind that relatively recent movement is the lengthy history of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement — about which Saletan has absolutely nothing to say because that would bring up things he’s no more willing to discuss than adultery or polygamy. Like gay-bashing, job and housing security,parental rejection, social ostracism — you know, that stuff.

“On Wednesday, I asked Smith that question. ‘We’re talking about people; they’re talking about specific acts,’he said. ‘t has nothing to do with these other situations that are largely frowned upon by the vast majority of Americans.’Is being frowned upon by the vast majority of Americans an acceptable standard for deciding which practices shouldn’t be constitutionally protected? ‘It’s not part of the discussion,’ Smith replied. I asked whether it was constitutionally OK for states to ban incest. ‘Yes,’ he said. Why? ‘There’s a compelling interest for the state to ban that practice,’ he said. What’s the compelling interest? For that, Smith referred me to HRC General Counsel Kevin Layton.”

Aha! Saletan smells buck-passing!

“Layton pointed out that laws against incest ‘already exist side by side’ with the Supreme Court’s current right-to-privacy doctrine. From this, he inferred that the doctrine doesn’t cover those laws. But laws against gay sex also exist side by side with the privacy doctrine. If coexistence implies compatibility, then Santorum wins on both counts: States can ban incest and gay sex.

I asked Layton whether states should be allowed to ban incest. ‘They have a right to do that, as long as they have a rational basis,’ he said. Do they have such a basis? ‘It’s not my point to argue what a state’s rational basis would be for regulating cousin marriage,’ Layton replied. ‘The only way the court’s decision in [the sodomy] case would go down the slippery slope to incest is if legally they were the same thing, which they’re not.’ Why not? Essentially, Layton reasoned that it isn’t his job to explain why incest and gay sex are different. It’s Santorum’s job to explain why they’re similar.”

Precisely! No buck-passing at all. The ease in which being gay is rendered synonymous with adultery, incest and beastility (something Santorum mentions but Saletan pointedly “overlooks” ) has long been boilerplate with the “Religious” Right. But something so obviously objectionable as “man on dog” would get in the way of Saletan’s game — playing with gays and lesbians like a cat who thinks he’s cornered a mouse.

“But HRC’s own arguments hint at similarities. Like Smith, a defender of brother-sister incest could accuse Santorum of ‘disparaging an entire group of Americans’ and ‘advocating that a certain segment of American society be disavowed from constitutional protection.’

One wonders what’s holding him back from bringing up NAMBLA.

“In its brief to the Supreme Court in the sodomy case, HRC maintains that ‘criminalizing the conduct that defines the class serves no legitimate state purpose,’ since gays ‘are not less productive—or more dangerous—members of the community by mere dint of their sexual orientation.’ They sustain ‘committed relationships’ and ‘serve their country in the military and in the government.’ Fair enough. But couldn’t the same be said of sibling couples? Don’t laugh. Cousin couples are already making this argument.”

And right on cue, Saletan comes up with a website link.

As if it represents anything of significance.

“I’m a lifestyle conservative and an orientation liberal.”

No, you’re a reactionary. Like all the Kool Kids on the Beltway these days.

“The way I see it, stable families are good, homosexuality isn’t a choice, and therefore, gay marriage should be not just permitted but encouraged.”

Frankly I’m against gay marriage.

The legal rights and privileges granted married couples should be, quite logically, extended to same-sex couples — whose relationships are often longer than opposite sex ones. My boyfriend and I have been together 31 years. Yet my stomach sickens at the notion that what we’ve been living through over the past three decades is a mere apeing of what “real” (eg. straight) couples do. We have nothing in common with straight couples whatsoever. But it flatters the Saletans of this world to imagine that we do.

“Morally, I think incest is bad because it confuses relationships. But legally, I don’t see why a sexual right to privacy, if it exists, shouldn’t cover consensual incest.”

More confusion. What is this “privacy” business anyway? What could be more public than a married couple, whose ceremony, rings, living arrangements and public appearances are a loud and clear announcement to the world that “WE FUCK EACH OTHER!”

This grotesque ostentatiousness is the chief reason the “What proof do you have?” bleat comes up every time the same-sex affinity of a third party (famous or obscure) are brought up in so-called “polite conversation” — which is not “polite” at all, but highly circumspect and often secretive.

And then there’s the whole question of public sex — which I’ve often enjoyed in total defiance of the law.

But then my entire life as a gay an has been in defiance of the law. And while I have often been involved in demonstrations designed to change it, my chief concern has been uniting in common cause with other gays and lesbians and working to forge new modes of social congress in spite of the Heterosexual Dictatorship (Christopher Isherwood’s ever-useful term) that tries to contain us, no matter how the Supreme Court may rule this June.

“I think Santorum is wrong.”

Well isn’t that special?


“But I can’t explain why, and so far, neither can the Human Rights Campaign.”

That’s because you don’t want to, and the Human Rights Campaign doesn’t need to.

It’s the Republican National Committee that needs to explain itself.

And it’s William Saletan who needs to cut the crap.