Making Gay Okay Ch. 2: A Quick Note on an Ettelbrick Quote


Just a quick note today on Chapter 2 of Making Gay Okay.

Reilly starts the chapter with a quote from “lesbian advocate” Paula Ettelbrick. The debate about gay marriage, Reilly tells us, is all about, in Ettelbrick’s words, “transforming the very fabric of society… [and] radically reordering society’s views of reality.”

The quote is meant to illustrate Reilly’s point—the thesis of the whole book, really—that accepting gay marriage requires a rejection of objective reality. It’s the second time he’s used the quote, and we’re only on Chapter 2. And why not? It’s a smoking gun of a quote, isn’t it? Here’s a high-powered member of the “gay lobby,” a lawyer for Lambda Legal, laying out what the religious right has told us all along is the secret agenda behind the marriage equality movement: the radical reorganization (read: the destruction) of everything society holds dear.

The problem?

The quote comes from an anti-gay-marriage essay.

Oh, it was written by a gay woman. But Andrew Sullivan called Ettelbrick one of “the fiercest critics of gay marriage (and gay conservatives) in the past.” In “Since When Is Marriage a Path to Liberation?,” from way back in 1989, Ettelbrick argued that gay rights groups should not seek the right to marry. In fact, the point Ettelbrick was making was basically the opposite of the one Reilly is trying to attribute to her: she wasn’t saying that gay marriage would destroy traditional society and therefore should be pursued (mua-ha-HA-HA!); she was arguing that traditional society needs to be destroyed but gay marriage won’t do it.

Again: Ettelbrick was arguing that gay marriage would not destroy traditional society.

This would be clearer, except that Reilly’s ellipses replace some important words in the quote he uses: “We must keep our eyes on the goals of providing true alternatives to marriage and of radically reordering society’s views of reality.“ (emphasis added) Gay marriage, Ettelbrick argued, was a move away from *her* goal of “reordering society’s views of reality,” which would be better obtained by endorsing alternatives to marriage.

I’ll leave it to y’all, dear readers, to discern whether Reilly is being deliberately deceitful in his presentation of Ettelbrick’s quote.


[There’s some dust in the middle of that quote, Reilly.]

But the point is that *her* goal is not the goal of the gay rights’ movement as a whole. In fact, I would argue that if that had been the goal, the movement never would have achieved the rapid, momentous successes it has.

As Gabriel Arana noted this week at Salon, Marc Solomon has a new book out on the history of the marriage equality movement. Arana starts out with an anecdote from the aftermath of the Goodridge decision that legalized gay marriage in Massachussetts. Arana writes:

Nearly 10 years ago, on the heels of the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage in the state, gay-rights advocates faced a strategic decision. With the Legislature about to consider a constitutional amendment reining in the court’s decision, they could either push legislators to back civil unions as a compromise or face the full wrath of the opposition.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for LGBT-rights group Freedom to Marry, called Los Angeles City Councilman (now mayor) Eric Garcetti to ask for advice. “Fight for love,” Garcetti said. Civil unions were about legal status, about “rights”; marriage was about love.

Now, I know “love” is not a particularly convincing word for anybody that might be reading this from the Catholic Right. You all think that same-sex love is inherently unloving. So maybe a better way to formulate it is Rob Tisinai’s: “We only ask for the rights because we’ve already accepted the responsibilities.”

The point is that the movement, as it actually, historically developed, hasn’t emphasized “rights,” at least not as it has found success in changing America’s mind. This point dovetails with Chris Geidner’s 2011 account, in which he notes that the move to marriage meant abandoning a “full defense of sexual freedom.” Had it not, it likely would not have found much purchase. As Andrew Sullivan puts it, before the push for marriage equality, “[W]e had been trapped into this … ghetto of defending sexual freedom. And then asking people not to be mean to us.” And, Sullivan says, that position was getting them nowhere.

Again, Reilly would have you believe the opposite. “The subject of homosexuality…,” he writes, “has become inextricably enmeshed in the political rhetoric of rights.” And his whole book is based on the idea that marriage equality is an extension of unfettered sexual freedom, rather than its repudiation. But while marriage is a right, the push for marriage equality has been made by people who care about the telos, the purpose, and the reasons behind that right. And who see the responsibilities that come with it. The good news is that means we can have a productive conversation about the nature of sex and the place of same-sex love within that nature.

The bad news? Reilly runs away from that conversation.

But we’ll have it anyway, starting in our next post.

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