Santorum's Folly

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Touch

by Ross Levine

Not since Strom Thurmond put another candle on his rapidly liquefying birthday cake has a Republican Senator -- in this case Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania -- fallen victim to such a grave case of foot-in-mouth disease. Of course, in the Thurmond incident, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott rather injudiciously suggested that the era that followed World War II erred in not keeping the races as divided as the atom. For that, he quickly (though not quickly enough) lost his seat as Senate Majority Leader.

Even the core of the Republican Party (formerly known as the Southern Democrats) couldn't abide a call for racial partitioning in this day and age, but at least the distinguished Senator from Pennsylvania chose to offend a group that, to this moment, remains an acceptable target of rationalized and legally supported prejudice -- America's dykes, fags and the so-called gender-jumbled. For them, hunting season has quieted somewhat, but a shot still rings out now and then as political and religious conservatives step from the pack to bag what they apparently believe is the greatest threat to the American family since, well, yes, integration.


"One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ."

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

In case you've been too absorbed with figuring out if Scott Peterson iced his wife or not, I'll fill you in on what Santorum had to say. To begin with, he told an AP reporter:

I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.

I suppose there is a certain logic here, in the way I myself have no problem with, say, Republican Senators, just Republican Senatorial acts. One can be tolerant of the Jews next door, provided they don't start reading from left to right and hammering a mezuzah to the doorframe. A serial killer is a fine human being until he claims his first victim, but this begs the question of whether he was indeed a serial killer until his initial foray into murder. Senator Santorum, it would appear, has no idea that he's in agreement with what gay activists have insisted all along, that being gay is not a lifestyle choice but a quality innate to the individual so labeled. He is acknowledging that homosexuals exist even if they choose not to engage in homosexual acts, something many of his colleagues (those who believe gays are simply "normal people" who, in a conspiracy to undermine society, elect to have "perverse" sex) would be loath to agree with.

And one more example, so as not to leave you connecting homosexuality to serial slaughter -- suppose we say that we have no problem with angels, only with angelic behavior? It's OK to possess a superior spirit, but once you start helping humanity, you become an affront to the majority of people who think only of themselves. If we put ourselves into Santorum's head, surely there's no confusing homosexuals and angels, but where exactly does the moral line (since, in most states, we're not talking about a legal line) get drawn? Who decides which types of people can express who they are and which types can't? As many pundits have already pointed out, Santorum seems to be bucking standard Republican cant by suggesting such decisions are the purview of the federal government.

But not to get stuck on just a few of the Senator's choice remarks, he graciously goes on:

I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.

You have to separate the person from their actions? Anyone who has studied Aristotle knows that character is action; to separate people from what they do is to deny a principal precept of human existence. We suddenly become passive beings just like the Eloi in H.G. Wells' Time Machine, while the Morlocks -- in this case, I suppose, reproductive heterosexuals -- get to run the show. I'm not saying that all straight people with kids are Morlocks, but it appears that in Santorum's idea of Earthly paradise, it's perfectly acceptable to be different as long as you don't make a difference.

In other words, Trent Lott might have said that he had nothing against blacks, as long as they don't act on their blackness.

But what does that mean? Not go to a black church? Not cook traditional black foods? Not propagate with other blacks? Santorum can rest relieved that homosexuals who do act on their impulses can't produce new homosexuals -- or can he/do they? In his mind, in the minds of others like him, the very fact that a homosexual might make his or her existence known does indeed propagate more homosexuals, like an "illness" transmitted solely by awareness. In this worldview, just knowing that your neighbor has gastritis means you may come down with it, too. In other words, most straight, procreative Americans are sexual hypochondriacs who need only become aware of a different orientation in order to contract its symptoms.


What would The Dick -- whose daughter, Mary Cheney, is an out lesbian -- say about this controversy? So far, nothing. "Unless my knowledge of American history fails me, there has never been empirical proof that granting gays equal rights puts the heterosexual way of life at risk. Until the Santorumites get it through their heads that American society can survive gay rights, they'll keep having to come up with more convoluted ways to justify their discriminatory views."

Can anyone actually believe this? Of course there are those inclined to experiment, who might, if they see same-sexers steal a kiss in a bedroom window or on a prime-time television show, decide they might be missing something. But will the majority of heterosexual couples leave their spouses and children if they know homosexuals are allowed free fornication rights in the privacy of their own homes? Will this obese, gas-guzzling empire of ours fall once it becomes apparent that gay people -- however you define them -- deserve equal protection under the law? Is heterosexual American nothing more than a dictatorial regime that must stifle sexual dissent to keep itself in power? How did it attain power in the first place? Were the founding fathers (what with their wigs and pink, powdered faces) all a bunch of nelly queens who launched a gay republic in 1776 that was -- in some now-obliterated chapter of our history -- overthrown by a heterosexual counter-revolution (perhaps during the rule of Andrew "Macho" Jackson or Teddy "Bull Moose" Roosevelt)? Is that why heterosexuals must be ever vigilant, lest the homosexual golden age return?

Unless my knowledge of American history fails me, there has never been a gay golden age, nor is there any empirical proof that granting gays equal rights puts the heterosexual way of life at risk. Until the Santorumites get it through their heads that American society can survive gay rights the way it weathered the end of slavery, the semi-emancipation of women and a myriad of other progressive changes since Lexington and Concord, well, they'll keep having to come up with more and more "clever" and convoluted ways to justify their discriminatory views. In other words, Senator, the biggest threat to the American family is not sodomy but "Saddamy" -- the oppression of human beings based on both political expedience and state-sanctioned tyranny.

Alas, like most Congressmen, Santorum can't resist further "clarification":

"The future of a movement is conditioned by the fanaticism, yes, the intolerance, with which its adherents uphold it as the sole correct movement, and push it past other formations of a similar sort ... absolute intolerance also provides long growth ... The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly imposes its will against all others." -- Mein Kamph
We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family.

I wager he means sodomy, not the laws against it. Imagine the family as a wagon train surrounded by a marauding band of naked inverts and you have a vivid picture of what the Senator is trying to say. But he's not finished:

And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.

Much has already been made of this passage. I would only ask you to imagine a federal statute against adultery. How many prisons would it take to hold every cheating spouse in the U.S.? Surely Guantanamo would not suffice. Again, we have to wonder where Santorum is drawing his line. Unmarried heterosexuals -- misdemeanor? Wife swappers -- felony? Internet masturbators -- ten years "hard" labor?

Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes ... It all comes from ... this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold.

Excuse me, Rick. Griswold was a Supreme Court case that toppled a Connecticut law banning contraceptives. It did not create law, it referred to it. To the 14th Amendment, in fact, which last we heard, was part of the Constitution. The Amendment tells us that no state can "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Obviously, a law that bans a specific sexual act between members of the same sex, but not between members of different sexes, is of dubious constitutionality. By criminalizing homosexual sex, you assert that it is a crime against another party. Since two adults engaging in consensual sex usually don't file a police report afterwards, their behavior must be hurting someone else. That someone else, of course, is, in Senator Simpleton's view, society.

And the further you extend [the right to privacy], the more you -- this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong, healthy families...

Now first of all, how does he prove this charge? Homosexuals have existed -- and practiced -- since recorded time, and the world's population is presently headed for seven billion. Does the Senator believe that our failure to eradicate homosexuality has kept our globe from reaching its full population potential? Second, since when are we a fundamentalist state? If the harm is moral, then the law must be as well. Murder is illegal not because the Ten Commandments make it so, but because it clearly deprives another person (and please do not substitute "fetus" here) of their constitutional right to life. How does consensual sodomy impinge on some third party's constitutional rights? The only right it violates is that of the self-righteous to believe that all of humanity -- the most diverse species ever to ply the planet -- can be shoved into one tidy, one-size-fits-all "straight" jacket. And thirdly, if the Constitution of the United States doesn't guarantee the individual at least a modicum of refuge from subjugation by the majority, then what distinguishes our government from the one we just finished bombing into oblivion in Iraq? The Senator concludes his thought (or lack thereof):

Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, whether it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.

If anything is antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family, it is people in the public eye who turn what should be an institution open to all into an exclusive club. I believe a fella named Adolf once dreamt of perfect families, and even created selective breeding farms to produce them. When a society begins codifying its blanket exclusions of certain members, then that society is soon left deciding whether a man whose great grandmother was half a Goldberg is a Jew or not. The Third Reich, in its adherence to certain so-called ideals, actually hastened its own demise rather than ensuring its survival. Your turn, Senator:

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.

Again, one size fits all. I think we know how most members of Congress feel about variations on the theme of matrimony (remember the Defense of Marriage Act?), but our Pennsylvanian pontificator needs to address the issue of what to do with all the people in the U.S. who may not be monogamous spouses with kids (a group that we all know, thanks to Larry Flynt, includes many of the Senator's colleagues). It may be true that marriage as we know it has always been the dominion of heterosexuals (and more than a few homosexual poseurs), but that should not be confused with the fact that many societies past and present have been/are considerably more tolerant than our own of deviations from the male-female missionary-position paradigm. And as for "man on child, man on dog," well, one can only hope he's not speaking from experience.

The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.

Fellow pundits have already pointed out Santorum's use of the pronoun "we" here -- naturally, if he's going to advocate the curtailing of individual rights, he's going to make sure that those rights belong to the other guys.

If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. I mean, I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in.

Unless, of course, the court sides with Texas. The Lone Star State, which has given us considerable "gifts" of late, is one of those that makes a distinction between hetero and homo anal-attentiveness. For that reason, Garner and Lawrence v. Texas is headed before the Supreme Court where, once again, the future of gay civil liberties for the next God knows how many years may be completely up to the largesse of Sandra Day O'Connor.

When, in 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall used Marbury v. Madison to make the Supreme Court the final arbiter of constitutionality, it gave the Court a power that our bewigged founding fathers never counted on. However the Court fit into their original scheme of checks and balances, it suddenly became a powerhouse that our society has never quite been able to fully reckon with. Although both the President and Congress have a say in whom the justices are, the power of those appointees, it seems, has become far too sweeping.

For over two centuries, they have wielded this power for both good (Brown v. Topeka) and evil (Dred Scott), but the fact that, in this so-labeled democracy, one individual breaking a 4-4 tie has the power to set society back or thrust it forward a decade or two seems nearly too much to bear. If the Court sides with Texas, and grants the state the right to continue to persecute gay people, both in statute and in (as with this case) practice, then the United States will remain an anomaly in the Western world, one in which such idiotic and legally bankrupt policies as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will continue to be a blot on the national consciousness. To think that gay soldiers risking their lives in America's War on Terror have to practice innumerable subterfuges to keep from being exposed and thus ejected from the service is reminiscent of the black soldiers who, after risking their lives in World War II, returned home to Southern army bases to face more indignities than those inflicted on German and Italian prisoners.

It's very easy for us nowadays to wax sentimental about civil rights in reference to race; apparently, the pendulum has swung so far the other way that white students now feel compelled to sue universities for discriminating against them. In any case, although the Republican Party made little effort to conceal its racist leanings even before Trent Lott underlined them with his reactionary tongue, it was fearful enough of being perceived as overtly anti-black that Lott was deposed in short order. Will Santorum suffer a similar fate? As of this writing, it doesn't seem likely. There is still, in America 2003, much for a political party to gain by letting it be known that it has absolutely no problem with openly anti-gay rhetoric from its prominent members.

But didn't Santorum say he had "nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual?" Of course he did, and then somehow ended up talking about "man on dog." You can't have it both ways, Senator. In the eyes of gay-bashers in suits like yourself, "homosexuals" -- people attracted to members of their own sex -- deserve pity for not being heterosexuals. As long as they are pitiable, there's no reason to hate them. But as soon as sex enters the equation -- S.E.X., the great bugaboo of sanctimonious moralists -- that's where pity ends and contempt begins. In America, with its puritanical past, if you reduce people to a sex act, it's not hard to get your followers to despise them. The rule is quite simple: with heterosexuals, talk family, with homosexuals, talk sodomy. It works every time.

Put another way, Hitler said the Jews were infiltrating the German banking system to serve their evil ends. Santorum claims gays are infiltrating the American social system to serve their evil ends.

Rick, America is an evolving society, not a rarefied "Santorium." Eventually, she has to bend or break. Even George Wallace, who stood on the University of Alabama steps to bar the enrollment of two black students, eventually smelled the coffee. Well, Senator, it looks like neither your party, or your country, is going to demand that of you yet, but we can only hope that, before your term is up -- if not in Congress, then in this world -- they do just that.

01 May 03


Ross M. Levine is an author, Marcel Proust marathoner and manatee-hugger who feels safer on the edge; i.e., in New York or California. He agrees with the King of Brobdingnag that we're "the most pernicious race of odious vermin to crawl the surface of the Earth." He thinks Americans have too much freedom -- fries, that is.