I was reminded of John Corvino's book What's Wrong with Homosexuality? (NY: Oxford UP, 2013) as I read Erik Eckholm's report this past weekend in the New York Times about the ongoing efforts of the religious right to depict tolerance of gay folks as the first step onto a slippery slope that will lead God knows where. Corvino takes the cue for his chapter discussing this slippery-slope argument from Rick Santorum's infamous statements to an AP reporter in 2003 that tolerance for homosexual people will lead everywhere--everywhere bad--in any society that extends such tolerance to gays. Corvino entitles the chapter "Man on Man, Man on Dog, or Whatever the Case May Be."
As Eckholm reports, at the very center of the attempt to argue that societal tolerance for gay folks is the first step on a slippery slope of doom is University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, whose study claiming to demonstrate that same-sex marriage harms children has been widely and resoundingly criticized and discredited (click on Regnerus's name below the posting for previous discussions of his work). Eckholm notes that when Judge Vaughn Walker struck down proposition 8 in California, opponents of same-sex marriage were unable to produce credible arguments demonstrating the danger that same-sex marriage poses to children, and the idea for the Regnerus study was then hatched by the Heritage Foundation, which marshaled $785,000 for the study.
Leading the charge was Luis Tellez, president of the Witherspoon Institute, which ponied up $695,000 and chose Regnerus to do the study, since--as Eckholm notes--Regnerus is Catholic and has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. As the Human Rights Campaign's NOM Exposed website points out, Tellez is not merely Catholic, but a member of the highly secretive and exceptionally wealthy (and well-connected) group Opus Dei. In addition to heading the Witherspoon Institute, he sits on the board of the National Organization for Marriage.
As John Aravosis has just reminded readers of America Blog, Regnerus recently presented a lecture at right-wing Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, in which he stated that societal acceptance of same-sex marriage will lead to . . . you guessed it . . . anal sex in heterosexual marriages! Jeremy Hooper has uploaded an audio file of Regnerus's astonishing lecture at his Good As You site.
Let the gays gain an inch, and you'll soon have not only man on man, but man on dog or whatever the case may be: including anal sex in heterosexual marriages. To my way of thinking, these arguments provide an interesting case study in a kind of hysteria--an attraction-repulsion--about the notion of anal rape among heterosexual men. Is it not fascinating that anytime someone utters the word "gay," some straight men immediately go there: they go to the anus, to the notion of anal sex, to gay men but never to gay women.
And to gay men objectified and reduced to the notion of anal rape, an objectification and reduction that ignores the many flavors of gay men and gay relationships to be found in any society, mirroring the many flavors of heterosexual people and relationships to be found throughout the world (relationships in which, if I'm not mistaken, anal sex is already known, totally independent of gay marriage). An objectification and reduction that seeks to limit the humanity of gay men to what straight men terrified of the notion of anal rape (but evidently fixated on this idea at the same time) to their imagined sexual practices . . . .
Another noteworthy psychological observation about these arguments, it seems to me, is that there's a kind of ravenous need in all social groups to feel better than, superior to, someone. And so most social groups pick some hapless set of human beings within their social sphere on which to pile all their fears, revulsions, predictions of what may go wrong with society--a scapegoat group on whose back the dominant group imagines it can load the sins of the world, and thereby be freed of its own guilt.
And so John Corvino: this passage leaps out at me in his chapter "Man on Man, Man on Dog, or Whatever the Case May Be":
I’m reminded here of a funny story from Dan Savage. Savage was on a radio show with a man who sincerely claimed to have a romantic (including sexual) relationship with a horse. At the end of the interview, as the wrap-up music was playing, Savage offhandedly said, "Oh, I forgot to ask—is it a male horse or a female horse?’ The man turned red, glared at Savage, and retorted indignantly, ‘I AM NOT GAY!!!" (I suppose people find comfort where they can) (129).
People find comfort where they can--sometimes, sad to say, in using certain targeted minority groups as scapegoats for sins that they don't intend to face inside their own hearts and minds, and their own social groups.