% IssueDate = "8/11/03" IssueCategory = "Reviews" %>
Headlined 'Homosexual Marriage'
Fifty years ago this month, on the cover page of the nation's first major gay magazine appeared the bold question: Homosexual Marriage? Little did the editors realize that a half-century later this would be a question for national debate.
When the 1951 issue of ONE was published, it was promptly confiscated by Los Angeles postal authorities, who held it up for three weeks for review by official Washington, itself engulfed in the McCarthy hysteria. This was the first of several seizures of gay magazines under 18 U.S.C. 1461 prohibited mailing materials deemed "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile," and directing the U.S. Post Office not to convey such material.
What was so obscene or vile about this essay, described by the magazine's editors (members and former members of the Mattachine Society) "as one of the most important ONE has published"? Perhaps stunning to a queer generation born long after Stonewall and into a world ravaged with AIDS-and certainly baffling to officials of the U.S. Postal Service-the author disparaged the prospect of state sanctioned homosexual unions.
"The [Mattachine] Society desires to win from society acceptance for the deviate. On the surface, this aim is certainly fine," the pseudonymous essayist observed. "Yet look at the tremendous change it implies." Imagine "that the year was 2053 and homosexuality was accepted to the point of being of no importance." Is the homosexual, he queried, "in this Utopia, subject to marriage laws?"
My state of South Carolina is hardly a Utopia despite the recent departure of Strom Thurmond. As homosexual citizens of the Palmetto State, we have just been emancipated from the onerous sodomy statute on the eve of the 24th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots by an enlightened U.S. Supreme Court (Justices Scalia, Rehnquist and Thomas, notwithstanding). And, there is already a drumbeat among homosexuals for civil recognition of same-sex unions.
The Internet is crowded with speculation about the forthcoming Massachusetts court decision while president and pontiff decry the blasphemous prospects of Adam and Steve wedding cakes. Yet, many of my Stonewall generation are strange bedfellows to this un-elected president and sex-scandalized pope-just as this author of "Marriage License or Just License" of a half-century ago.
Why should gays "be permitted promiscuity when those heterosexuals who people the earth must be married to enjoy sexual intercourse?" Great question! His answer? They shouldn't. Reminding ONE readers, "equal rights mean equal responsibilities," the author suggested that "this acceptance will cause as great a change in homosexual thinking as in heterosexual-perhaps greater. No more sexual abandon: imagine!"
In our post-Stonewall struggle, we (particularly many gay leaders) have entered a Faustian bargain trading equal rights with heterosexuals in lieu of sexual liberation for all. We give money to the Human Rights Campaign and support Lambda Legal to advance reform devoid of desire. We march for equal rights, not the right to fuck.
In an effort to mainstream the movement, our history also has been whitewashed and our leaders, from Magnus Hirschfeld to Henry Gerber to Hal Call to Harvey Milk, are now statuesque granite erections pointing to the benefits of Borg-like assimilation into the heterosexual culture. Their personal and political struggles against sexual McCarthyism, religious hypocrisy, and political heterodoxy have been filtered from the canon of so-called gay history.
Harold Call, a prominent leader in the Mattachine Society, observed near the end of his life, "We are still operating under the anti-sexual taboo." He explained. "The Puritan idea is Thou Shalt Not Feel Good. Unless you are miserable, overworked, and under-fucked you're not really a productive member of the society." Homosexuals, living in millennial versions of Ozzie & Harriet households, are determined to portray themselves as hardworking, tax-paying citizens for whom sex is a postscript in a twin-bed storybook world.
Henry Gerber, founder of the first state-chartered homosexual organization in the United States (1924), understood this unholy relationship between orthodox religion and the nation state. "The regimentation in sex is to push holy matrimony and [the] manufacture of cannon fodder." And, the author of "Reformer's Choice," appearing in that August issue of ONE, like contemporary religious leaders and their political henchmen, recognized that state approval of homosexual marriage would "loosen heterosexual marriages… and make even shallower the meaning of marriage as we know it."
This, perhaps, gets closer at why authorities today (like five decades earlier) cringe at the thought of homosexual marriage. In the production of a new generation of fallen patriots and debt-ridden consumers, "All this morality business is sheer bunk," wrote Gerber. It is "a desperate effort of Society (business interests) to mate every sap so he will have a home and family and can easier be exploited."
The anonymous writer of this ONE essay (and he spoke for many homosexuals), also challenged the window dressing of the stuffy homophile activists of his day whose activism was largely motivated by their perilous nocturnal activities: "We simply don't join movements to limit ourselves. Rebels such as we, demand freedom!… Are we willing to make the trade? From the silence of the [Mattachine] Society on the subject, perhaps not."
In 2003, there is no silence. From radio shows to Internet chat rooms, it would appear that gays overwhelmingly support homosexual marriage. But did those of us in the Stonewall generation riot to appear in the New York Times "Weddings/Celebrations"? Our silence (to borrow the famous phrase from lesbian poet Audre Lorde) will not protect us. As Henry Gerber, turning to his old activist friend, Manual boyFrank, four years before the appearance of ONE magazine, asked, "What homosexual in his right mind wants to marry…?"
James T. Sears, PhD, is an award-winning author who has taught at Harvard, Trinity University and the University of South Carolina. His forthcoming and controversial book, Behind the Mask of the Mattachine, will be published next year by Haworth Press: www.jtsears.com/mattachine