Gore Vidal, Chick-fil-A, and Same Sex Marriage.
Gore Vidal has died. May he rest in peace. Vidal was a very witty and intelligent man, but sometimes badly lacking in good judgement. During the Vietnam War he spoke of the killing of American servicemen in a way that made it seem that he thought it a good thing, and described Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, as “a noble boy.” Like him or not though, Gore Vidal always always seemed to have something entertaining to add to any public debate, sometimes it was also worthwhile. In regards to gay rights Gore once said, “There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices.” Especially interesting coming from someone who himself acknowledged that he engaged in homosexual acts, but refused to define himself by that.
Over the course of the past couple years I have been carefully examining my own beliefs about homosexuality and same sex marriages, and after doing so find that I am still coming back to that same view that Vidal expressed. I don’t think that the terms themselves refer to anything real. And if the terms are not real, if people are not born with a set orientation one way or another, then the whole public debate about gay rights (as something additional to ordinary rights we all have as human beings) is bogus.
This is becoming a very unpopular view to hold. Same sex marriage supporters say that they are only asking for equality and not telling anyone else what to do, but that is the bait, in places like Boston and Chicago we are already seeing the switch: elected officials in those cities and others are openly ostracizing and villainizing anyone who continues to have any of “those” religiously based beliefs that until recently were the norm in our culture.
The current attempts to preserve traditional understandings of marriage may be the last holdout before final victory of the sexual revolution. The defense of traditional marriage has along the way of course, been mixed up, by some, with some genuine homophobia, but it need not have been. Any number of cultures have tolerated or even encouraged homosexuality, but, until now, none of them talked of “marriage” in such cases; they may have been immoral, but they were not insane. Alcibiades may have loved Socrates, but he had no thought of marrying him. Antiquity realized that words meant something, and that marriage applied to a specific set of relations aimed not just, or even primarily, at the convenience and pleasure of the adults, but to the needs of the future. But now marriage is a “right” like so many others. But no thought is given to any accompanying responsibilities.
As Americans we all live in a relentlessly consumerist culture, and the consumption of sexual experience has become for us what mysticism was for European Christians in the middle ages. Gore Vidal also had something to say about granting that kind of over importance to sex:
“Sex is. There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels and sex certainly gives no meaning to anything in life but itself.”