Last edited: November 23, 2003

There’s No Stopping Them Now

Chicago Sun Times, July 13, 2003
401 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
Fax: 312-321-2120

By Mark Steyn, Sun-Times Columnist

Personally, I’m relaxed about sodomy, which isn’t the same as being relaxed during sodomy. But one does one’s best to keep up with the times. I use the word “sodomy,” incidentally, mainly because I still can. I would wager that one of the consequences of the Supreme Court decision striking down sodomy laws will be that they’ve also struck down the word. I see New York is revising its statutes to eliminate such anachronistically pejorative terms, and in Georgia, where the DAs have made hip, busy cop-show acronyms out of their archaic legislation, I don’t suppose “SOLCAN”—as in “Soliciting a Crime Against Nature”—will be long for this world.

David Frost likes to tell an anecdote from his mammoth post-Watergate Nixon interviews in the 70s. The former president was notoriously bad at small talk but, one Monday morning, decided to make an effort and, while the cameras were setting up, asked his interviewer, “Did you do any fornicating this weekend?” Frostie was doing an awful lot of fornicating in those days, but, as he noted, that’s not generally the word your average playboy swinger uses to describe it. If you’re an uptight Republican square and you’re trying to get with the program, don’t ask the reporter from The Advocate if he did any sodomizing this weekend.

Language has been an important weapon in the gay movement’s very swift advance. In the old days, there was “sodomy”: an act. In the late 19th century, the word “homosexuality” was coined: a condition. A generation ago, the accepted term became “gay”: an identity. Each formulation raises the stakes: One can object to and even criminalize an act; one is obligated to be sympathetic toward a condition; but once it’s a fully fledged 24/7 identity, like being Hispanic or Inuit, anything less than wholehearted acceptance gets you marked down as a bigot.

Which is why gay marriage is already here in two Canadian provinces (Ontario and British Columbia), coming to Britain any day now, and likely to be ruled a fundamental human right by the Massachusetts Supreme Court later this summer. The transformation of a “crime against nature” into a co-equal civic identity within little more than the span of one human lifetime is one of the most remarkable victories ever achieved by any minority group. Some years ago, the (gay) columnist Andrew Sullivan said to me that he reckoned there was more male-on-male sex in the days before the invention of gayness as a round-the-clock identity. I don’t doubt it. But that only makes the triumph of gay marriage even more impressive: In the Western world, a minority that didn’t even exist in a formal sense a century ago has managed to overwhelm and overhaul a universal societal institution thousands of years old.

Alas, my own taste in gays is hopelessly old-fashioned. I’ve hung around the theater most of my adult life, and I love the likes of Cole Porter and the eccentric English composer and painter Lord Berners. These are the fellows who thought homosexuality was one of those things “Too Good For The Average Man,” in the words of Lorenz Hart’s sly lyric—too special for the masses. These days, the gay movement insists it’s as average as any man, if not more so. Watching the two chubby gays being wed by a gay vicar on the steps of the courthouse in Vancouver the other day, Cole Porter would have wondered what on earth was the point of being homosexual.

Conversely, what about the moral authority that underpinned all those laws about crimes against nature? If it weren’t for homosexuality, the “mainstream” Christian churches would get barely any press at all.

In Canada, the big story has been New Westminster’s decision to become the first Anglican diocese to perform same-sex ceremonies. In Britain, the big story has been the nomination of a celibate gay to the bishopric of Reading, the first openly gay bishop in the Church of England. In America, the big story has been the nomination of a practicing gay to the bishopric of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. In Nigeria, where on any Sunday the Anglicans in the pews outnumber those in America, Britain and Canada combined, the Archbishop is understandably miffed that the only news he gets from head office revolves around various permutations of gayness.

Nonetheless, the distinctions are fascinating. In England, the much touted celibacy of Canon Jeffrey John and his partner has a whiff of the “but I didn’t inhale” about it: as someone said of Bill Clinton’s defense in the Monica business, “But I didn’t impale.” The New Hampshire bishop, who left his wife and kids and now lives in a fully committed and loving relationship with another man exploring his sexuality to the hilt, is much more au courant with the “I Gotta Be Me” sensibility of the age.

How far will it go? In Canada, the government has promised that the new law permitting same-sex marriage will “protect” the rights of churches. But anybody who’s paid even cursory attention to Canadian court decisions knows what happens when gays and religion come up against each other: A Christian printer is fined because he politely declined a printing job from gay propagandists; a Christian college is told it cannot fire a promiscuous gay employee; a Christian high school is instructed that a gay teenager must be allowed to take his boyfriend to the prom. I wouldn’t bet on the right of a Canadian church to decline to perform same-sex marriages surviving a sufficiently determined plaintiff. Look for gay weddings to become routine in northern churches within the next decade.

As for south of the border, the Episcopal Church, like the Church of England, is dying, and the notion that adopting exotic gay mascots will make either more relevant is highly doubtful. The most liberal churches are the emptiest. The fastest-growing religion in North America and western Europe is the sternest: Islam. And the only Christian churches showing any growth are the evangelicals—or the “bigots,” as Richard Holloway, the former Episcopal primate of Scotland, called them the other day.

That’s marginally more polite than the description of “traditionalists” offered by his co-religionist, the first female Anglican bishop Barbara Harris, at the 1998 Lambeth conference: “If assholes were airplanes, this conference would be an airport.” One way or another, it’s all very anal in the Anglican church these days. The problem for Bishop Harris is that one day those flying assholes will take off and the airport will be empty.

Those congregational attendance statistics tell their own story: Nobody needs a religion that licenses one’s appetites. So thriving churches will increasingly exist in opposition to establishment culture. And thus the revolution comes full circle: gayness celebrated at the heart of society, and traditional Judeo-Christian morality relegated to the shadows, even though followers of the latter vastly outnumber those of the former.

What an amazing feat. Whether or not one approves of the sodomites, I can’t help feeling a mite envious: How come guys this good never get the marketing account for my pet causes?

[Home] [Editorials] [USA]