Sunday, June 04, 2006

The AIDS crisis, ergo gay marriage?

The twenty-fifth anniversary (if that is what it is to be called) of the start of the AIDS crisis has engendered a welcome series of reexaminations. In recent years HIV/AIDS had tended to fall off the radar screen. While new drugs have curbed the disease in the United States and other advanced Western countries, it is continuing to devastate a number of African countries.

I was astonished to learn that the HIV denialists are still in business. If HIV was not the cause of AIDS, how is it that the triple coctail of anti-HIV drugs has been so successful in prolonging the lives of people living with the condition? It is most unfortunate that the the South African government has bought into the denialist fantasies, bringing unnecessary death and suffering to the citizens of that country.

Let me turn to another aspect. In an op-ed in the NY Times of June 4, Jonathan Rauch has made a novel claim. He holds that the gay-marriage movement was a response to the AIDS crisis. It is true that the gay-marriage idea existed earlier--Rauch mentions the failed effort of two Minnesota men to obtain a licence to wed in 1970--but the big push for gay marriage did not begin until the early nineties, a decade after the first reports of AIDS.

This is an interesting claim, but is it more than post-hoc, propter hoc? After all, the Republican takeover of Congress began about the same time (in 1994), but no one would conclude that this development had anything to with AIDS.

Among same-sex people AIDS affects primarily gay men. If a desire to flee AIDS and the underlying "culture of promiscuity and alienation" was a major factor, why is it that lesbians have rallied in disproportionate numbers to gay marriage? I take strong exception to Rauch's echoing of homophobic propaganda when he speaks of gay life sans marriage as a "culture of death." Shame on you Jonathan Rauch.

Supposing McConnell and Baker, the Minnesota gay men, had been successful in marrying in 1970, and then gay marriage spread throughout the land. Does anyone think that we would not subsequently have had an AIDS crisis?

The "culture of promiscuity" is the culture of men, who are biologically programmed to seek as many partners as possible. In Africa HIV/AIDS is primarily a heterosexual phenomenon. Would gay marriage have stalled the progress of the disease on that continent.

Today, the gay marriage movement is on the ropes. It is going nowhere. The reason is the notion that so many gay activists seem to hold, that same-sex marriage is simply an entitlement. "We want our rights, and we want them now." This strategy has not worked, because the American people do not respond favorably to coercion. Rauch's claim must be viewed as a last-ditch effort to find reasons for a cause that has stalled and is now, to all intents and purposes, out of commission.

I have indicated previously why Massachusetts does not have gay marriage on a par with heterosexual marriage. In the unlikely event that our high court in New York
decides in favor of SSM, we will not have it here either.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Men, and gay men in particular, seem to revel in new "adventures." (I've always been your atypical queer, preferring extended intimacy with one guy, so I can't be an impartial observer.)

But I think Rauch, while wrong, captures a phenomenon. While gay men tend to "partner," we also tend to "play." We call it "open" relationships. (Heaven knows, it was never an "option" in my relationships, although my first partner was quite surreptitious about his own adventures outside the home, while denying mine.)

Anyway, as an atypical queer, I'm happy with one man. My problem has been finding "one." But the cloud of AIDS did change behaviors. If one was not already infected, inviting "adventures" invited infection, and it was presumed a safer bet to go with the known, and stay uninfected, rather than risk the unknown, and risk infection. Add the other partner (innocent, of course), and one risk becomes two. It's logical. And it was fairly common to "limit risk" at AIDS nascent stages.

By the Nineties, these constrictures apparently were too confining. More and more, a non-adventurous partner suddenly had inexplicable symptoms, and then knowledge of being POZ. Since he knew HE hadn't invited the infection, only one OTHER could have. And, indeed, partners had something new (and unwanted) to share between them, after the usual hissy fit. If only the roving had stopped with the eye, but some men see any opportunity as too precious to let pass.

Fortunately for these relationships, antiretrovirals were on the horizon, but their partnerships were not. Being "unfaithful" and not caught is one thing, but being unfaithful and diseased is another. Some things couples don't want to share. Double exposure is one of them.

Pairing, partnerships, etc. have always been a feature, but so too, the "incidental" excursions with another (at the other partner's ignorance). AIDS temporarily stopped this prediliction. On this, Rauch is right. But men, being men, are easily enticed, AIDS or no AIDS.

Being an inherently non-promiscuous observer, I understand a certain facination with someone new, but given the risks, my logic would have presumed the "safe" default. Men, however, are not rational animals, we're simply animals, in need of new wonderment. But this fact is not "gay," nor new. Men are men. Women know their husbands' roving eyes and hope it stops there, but many find out it doesn't. Gay men just assume the opposite, and are pleasantly surprised if they're wrong.

Gay men just seem to know men cannot be contained, even if many of us are happy in monogamous relationships. The risk of AIDS, for many, is a risk too many have willingly taken for that novel "moment" of satisfaction.

What this portends for "gay marriage" is anyone's guess. Some men like monogamy; many don't. Most men desire a commitment, but also desire sexual freedom. A "new" script is being written as it's being lived, and revised to accommodate the exceptions. Personally, I think this innovation and rethinking is a good thing. Nobody (well, maybe a few) wants to "imprison" a partner, yet sexual relations often define the partnership. Promiscuity seems to defeat the purpose of a relationship, but maybe there is a "middle" way. Since we lack a script to begin with, maybe some accommodation can be found.

Gays are obviously trying to reconcile competing forces, fully aware of the dynamic, wanting their cake and eating it too. Thus a renegotiation of the dynamic cannot hurt, and may actually help. The impact on the "institution" of marriage cannot be any more damaging than has already happened by straights, and maybe we'll all learn new solutions to age-old problems of men's desire for insatiable sex.

Personally, I would not bet on it. As a gay author has written: "Men are pigs, but we love bacon." Yep, that pretty well explains it. The difference is that gay men know it, straight women hope otherwise. Unlike most heterosexuals, gay men acknowledge the odds; we are, after all, men too.

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