Weekly Briefing

The right’s persistent obsession with sex

Opponents of gay marriage take off the muzzles

Supporters and opponents of a proposal to amend the North Carolina constitution to ban same-sex marriage held competing press conferences in Raleigh on Tuesday. The events took place in anticipation of a special session of the General Assembly that Republican leaders will convene next week in order to try and pass such an amendment.

During the morning session, opponents of the amendment patiently and soberly listed several reasons why they think such an amendment is a bad idea: the fact that it’s unnecessary in light of current law; the fact that it will harm business recruitment and development at the precise moment when we desperately need more jobs; the negative message that it will send to our state’s large population of military personnel just as the nation ends the silly “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; and the general message of intolerance and hate that it conveys – just to name a few.

Sobriety, however, was not the chosen theme for the pro-amendment press event that took place just after noon. At that event, the Number Three Republican in the State House of Representatives, Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell, appeared with a troop of ultra-conservative ministers who proceeded to treat those in attendance (as well as those listening via the Internet) to a spirited lecture about Christianity, the Bible, and, perhaps most tellingly, sex.

Of God and biology

According to Folwell and his fellow speakers, homosexuality is forbidden by the Bible (which is to be interpreted literally as God’s word). While it’s not entirely clear as to which words Folwell and the ministers were referring (since informed experts have long cast great doubt about supposed Biblical attitudes toward homosexuality), the basic premise seems to be that “God” said homosexuality is wrong at some point or other and therefore, the state of North Carolina is commanded to proscribe same-sex marriage lest it run afoul of the Almighty.

Neither Folwell nor his cohorts offered an opinion as to whether the state was also risking trouble with God for its longstanding refusal to ban tattoos, the eating of shellfish, unapproved haircuts or sexual relations between men and menstruating women (as is spelled out in the book of Leviticus). Similarly, none of the speakers offered any opinion on the Bible’s inclusion of several heroic figures who were active polygamists and slaveholders.

Ultimately, however, it wasn’t religion that really seemed to move the speakers at Tuesday’s event; it was sex.

According to at least one of the speakers called to the podium by Folwell, an anti-LGBT marriage amendment is necessary in North Carolina because homosexual acts violate biological rules. According to a Rev. Johnny Hunter, sexual acts between two people of the same gender are “immoral and unnatural.” Hunter explained that only heterosexual acts allow a marriage to be properly “consummated.” At one point, Hunter held up two locks (apparently as a symbol for two women) and banged them together to show that they were not designed for each other. He said the same would be the case for two keys – apparently in reference to two men.

Got that? According to a speaker promoted by one of the top officers in the North Carolina House of Representatives, marriage isn’t marriage unless it can be consummated through heterosexual intercourse.

It was unclear from these statements, just how far Rev. Hunter and Rep. Folwell would take this argument. Would they require, for instance, that such approved intercourse be only for purposes of procreation? Maybe. One of the reverends explained that if 20 male couples (or 20 female couples) were isolated, Gilligan-like, on a desert island for 100 years, they would eventually die off but that if men and women were present, they would produce lots of offspring!

And what about men and women for whom intercourse is no longer an option due to age or infirmity? Should they be allowed to marry? What about men and women who engage in sexual acts other than “traditional” intercourse? Is this something that the state should permit? What about couples that just want to live platonically? By the “logic” advanced by Rep. Folwell and the ministers, the answer to these questions would apparently be “no.”

The heart of the debate

Though delusional and troubling in countless ways, the Folwell press event was actually quite helpful in illuminating what’s really going on with the whole debate about same-sex marriage. For if it were ever in doubt, after Tuesday’s press conference it’s clear that a huge proportion of the debate really boils down to one central fact: Those driving the so-called Defense of Marriage Act are obsessed with sex – not sex as in gender, but sex as in what loving couples do together in private.

Either they’re genuinely repulsed by the idea of sex between two people of the same gender and want to do everything they can to stop it , or they’re so worried about the feelings they really harbor about such matters that they feel compelled, Ted Haggard-like, to crusade against them.

How else to explain the passionate fascination and devotion to the issue amongst the anti-LGBT crowd? Who else would spend such a large part of their lives worrying and arguing about how two loving adults want to express that love – especially when what that loving twosome wants to do is contribute to societal wellbeing and stability?

It can’t really be religion. As we’ve seen, if it were, these advocates would have a much longer list of activities to crusade against.

And it clearly can’t be a genuine concern for overall societal wellbeing. How is that cause advanced by discouraging the growth in the number of legally recognized, loving families? House Majority Leader Paul Stam’s crazy conspiracy theory (voiced last week at his own embarrassing press conference) that the recognition of same-sex marriage is somehow part of a diabolical liberal plot to undermine the institution of marriage itself is so patently illogical as to be absurd.

And who else spends time thinking and worrying about ridiculous and unrelated red herrings like incest, polygamy and, good grief, bestiality – as if same-sex marriage would somehow bring about the legitimization of those behaviors any more than the end to miscegenation laws did?

No, by any honest assessment, what really went on in the General Assembly yesterday and what, sadly, appears destined to happen next week, is but the latest in a long and desultory list of historical events in which American conservatives (and, indeed, backward-looking people all over the planet) have taken their own uninformed, troubled, and repressed obsession with sexual behavior and attempted to elevate it into some kind of divine command.

It is a sad and poignant development – sad because powerful people have once more placed themselves in the way of the expansion of human rights and simple decency and poignant because these people mock the central teaching (“love others as you would love yourself”) of the religious tradition on behalf of which they purport to act.

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