Grown Men Cry

Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald seem to be having a lover’s spat over the President’s vocal but personal support of marriage equality.  Andrew gushed, and Glenn cringed at the gushing.  On its own, this isn’t much, but it is based on a fundamental difference between gays on the left and the rest of us.

Glenn claims his objection isn’t to Andrew’s emotionalism, but I don’t think that holds water.  Anyone who thinks Andrew Sullivan is someone who would or could twist his deeply held views to “glorify whatever the leader does at any given moment” is not paying enough attention to Andrew.  In fact, it’s that “any given moment” that undermines Greenwald’s premise.  This was one specific moment, one particular issue, and is hardly typical of Andrew’s thinking, writing or person.  Lacking the proper leadership deference over time and across issues and leaders, all that is left of Greenwald’s criticism is Andrew’s emotional style at the President’s statement.

Andrew wasn’t alone in going over the top.  Jon Rauch is equally effusive about this given moment, and I’m with both of them.

Greenwald is hardly an opponent of marriage equality.  I think the exhilaration is less extreme on the left because of the different way they view government and sexual orientation.

Andrew, Jon and the members of IGF tend to have a narrow view of government’s role.  Specifically with respect to sexual orientation, the government should not have laws on the books that actively, positively discriminate based on sexual orientation.  Sodomy laws were the sine qua non of that kind of legal rule, placing us literally outside the law, making us criminals.  Dale Carpenter’s excellent book, Flagrant Conduct, describes the fall of those laws in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas.  Sodomy laws (and the related array of sexual misconduct laws) discriminated against us as individuals, and specifically discouraged and in many cases punished even the simple act of claiming a gay identity in public.  Military discrimination used those laws as the premise for active, legal discrimination against lesbians and gay men, and those laws, too, are now history.

That leaves marriage as the only place in the law where lesbians and gay men are explicitly excluded.  Now that the law cannot make us criminals, the job is to unwind the tangle that prohibits our relationships from being fully and equally recognized.

Those who have spent a lifetime trying to end that last vestige of positive legal discrimination cannot be faulted for losing it when a President of the United States, for the first time, tells the nation that he agrees with their argument.  No law has been changed yet, and as we just saw in North Carolina, the work is still substantial.  But as a national matter, today we can envision as a reality the last days of government discrimination.

The left expects more of government.  In addition to not discriminating itself, the left believes government should also act to prohibit others from discriminating, and should do a lot more as well.  Marriage equality is not an end in itself, it is one more piece of the larger puzzle.  That can be seen pretty plainly in the manifesto, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.

In that sort of context, full marriage equality isn’t going to solve very much, since there will still be poor and elderly and sick people, and there will still be individual discrimination against lesbians and gay men in particular that should be stamped out with governmental imprimatur and enforcement.

I’m dubious about government’s competence to do that; that is why I’m not of the left.  But that’s also why I’m overjoyed right now.  For the first time in my life, the President has said publicly that he supports marriage equality, understands why we want and need it, and is willing to defend his (and our) position. I wasn’t sure I’d ever actually live to see that, and in my opinion, that is the beginning of the end of our struggle.  And it’s icing on the cake that Mitt Romney is sweating bullets, and wants to keep himself as far from having to defend his sort-of position in public as his handlers can manage.

However we get to marriage equality, I’m going to view that as the end of the line.  I don’t want the government discriminating against me, and once it doesn’t, my activist days will be over.  Andrew and Jon and Greenwald can speak for themselves, of course, but right now I’m going to go have a good cry.

23 Comments for “Grown Men Cry”

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  3. posted by Houndentenor on

    Over the years Sully has managed to anger people on the left and the right, especially those who are orthodox conservatives or liberals. Plenty have mocked his choked up moment this weekend. Frankly, I found it rather moving since it’s so unlike him to behave that way in public. I like Andrew. I disagree with him plenty. I’m often baffled at the mental origami it takes to come up with some of his positions, but at least he’s not a cheerleader for one side or the other. We certainly have an overabundance of that as it is. And for that matter, what is so terribly wrong with showing an emotion every now and then?

  4. posted by TomJeffersonIII on

    Beyond what is called a lover’s quarrel, can’t get away from reality tv, let us actually think about what was being said (by some) about civil rights laws.

    Some people on the political right (especially if they are fans of the Cult of Ayn Rand) tend to believe in a form of economic anarchy, where the employer is God and the employee is, if they are lucky enough, a serf. Personally I think that is a silly idea. So too is Communism, but lucky we live in the real world were anarchy and communism are actually not our only options.

    • posted by Houndentenor on

      It fails to take into account that the evils of serfdom (and the industrial revolution’s then-new form of serfdom) led to the revolutions that gave us the evils of communism. Of course Rand missed that. Her “visionary novel” from the 1950s involves the steel industry and the railroads. Why she’s seen as a prophet is beyond me.

    • posted by JFE on

      Ayn Rand was an atheist, so if they are reading her correctly, there is no god of which to speak. Otherwise, they are just making it up as they go along.

  5. posted by Kurt Andersen on

    I think you’re reading more into Greenwald’s criticism than what’s there. First of all, Greenwald is not a doctrinaire leftist, and I defy you to cite any evidence from his writing that he is. Secondly, Greenwald’s point is that being too effusive about a political leader can be an impediment to holding the leader accountable for unfavorable actions, such as Obama’s policies concerning the War on Terror. The disdain for the left is obvious at IGF, but this time it has prevented you from rendering a fair critique.

    • posted by Chad Hill on

      I agree 100% with Kurt.

      I am an unabashed Sully acolyte and not particularly a fan of Greenwald, but your criticism misses the mark by a mile. Glenn is hyper-concerned with deference to the Executive Branch in all of its various forms, including via the cults of personality that form around our Presidents. Andrew’s emotional response to Obama’s “coming out” set him off for this reason, not because he believes marriage equality is somehow a trifling goal for the gay rights movement. (Indeed, if you know anything about Glenn’s personal situation, about which he has written publicly, you would know that this is definitively not the case.)

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  7. posted by Matt on

    Did electing Barack Obama end discrimination? Of course not. But everyone understood why we saw Jesse Jackson crying on television on election night. So why can’t people understand that gay Americans might get a bit chocked up during a very symbolic moment that affects them?

  8. posted by quickly on

    Well from my understanding, Greenwald wasn’t disturbed about Sullivan’s choking up, he was pointing out the contradiction between Sullivan’s previous views that what Obama said doesn’t make a difference (and in fact belittling SSM supporters for seeking his approval), and Sullivan’s new position after Obama came out in support. It also seems that Sullivan referring to Obama as a “father-figure” also was seen as emblematic of what Greenwald characterizes as the media being too close, and too emotionally involved, in the characters they are meant to report on and critique.

    (I happen to think that Obama voicing support, no matter how weakly and no matter how qualifiedly (“in my opinion”, “personally”) was a landmark day for this country)

    from Greenwald:

    “UPDATE II: I don’t have the slightest problem with Andrew Sullivan or anyone else being emotional about Obama’s expression of support for same-sex marriage, and this post has absolutely nothing to do with that issue, so if you’re one of those people who think that I’m objecting in any way to his display of emotion and intend to reply to that, please re-read what’s written here, with an emphasis on the first three paragraphs, to see that what’s being discussed here has no remote relationship to that issue.”

    • posted by TG Chicago on

      Agreed. The funny thing is that Link apparently realizes this, but says:

      “Glenn claims his objection isn’t to Andrew’s emotionalism, but I don’t think that holds water. ”

      So this handwaving of Greenwald’s entire point gives Link the license to invent whatever he wants Greenwald to have said.

      Or to put it another way, Link claims Greenwald’s objection isn’t to Sullivan’s emotionalism, but I don’t think that claim holds water… because Greenwald specifically rejected that claim.

  9. posted by Billbb on

    I find these lines from the article very telling:
    “However we get to marriage equality, I’m going to view that as the end of the line. I don’t want the government discriminating against me, and once it doesn’t, my activist days will be over. ”

    I guess that’s why I tend to come out more on the left than the right tho’ I’m a fan of Andrew as well as Glenn.

    While I don’t advocate for laws against prejudice, lgbt kids are still being dumped out on the streets by hateful parents, lgbt seniors are having to go back into the closet when they enter institutions that are supported by our tax money, and on. The idea of grabbing what serves oneself and ending activism is beyond my comprehension and violates my values. And yes: you can attack me for being a collectivist but know I am a proud one.

    • posted by Houndentenor on

      It has become patently clear to me over the last decade that the real divide between left and right in America is one’s empathy or lack thereof. Sadly, the right has enshrined Ayn Rand’s sociopathic world view as a virtue. I don’t think most of them would like the world they would live in if those values were actually in place throughout our culture.

  10. posted by Alan B on

    Part of what set Greenwald off (that seems to have been left out here) was that the specific reference Sully made to feeling approval from Obama as a father figure. That + an emotional reaction is an awful lot going on.

  11. posted by Josh on

    “However we get to marriage equality, I’m going to view that as the end of the line. I don’t want the government discriminating against me, and once it doesn’t, my activist days will be over.” So it is okay if the government continues to discriminate against others, as long as they are not you? Seems like an odd remark.

  12. posted by Mel D. on

    I was moved by the president’s endorsement of marriage equality, and I was moved by Andrew Sullivan’s honest statement of his reaction to it. All this talk about whether his reaction was appropriate or not is just silly. Sheesh.

  13. posted by Mark F. on

    I’m glad the President now supports marriage equality, but the political machinations of the decision are obvious and Sullivan’s fawning over Obama is disturbing, especially when he spent the past 3 years saying the President’s views on same sex marriage didn’t matter much.

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  15. posted by James Cole on

    The difference between Sullivan and Greenwald is that Sullivan is not intellectually rigorous or consistent in his views–he picks and chooses ideas that suit his fancy at the moment without regard to the extent to which the underlying principles are consistent with other positions he has taken. Plus he just loves Obama and will look for any excuse to laud him. Greenwald is pretty much the opposite, he is very rigorous and consistent with the underlying principles that guide his writing.

  16. posted by Mark F. on

    I will give Sullivan credit for publishing the opinions of people who don’t agree with him on his blog.

  17. posted by TomJeffersonIII on

    Sometimes I agree or disagree with what Andrew Sullivan says or what ‘Mr. G’ says. I do not really hold either person up as the great intellectual guru of the twenty-first century gay rights movement, but sometimes they do have an idea worth supporting now and again.

    The Tea Party right-wing loves Ayn Rand because she justifies many of their bad policies and creep social attitudes. They either ignore the fact that she was a hardcore atheist or do not know much about her beyond the cliff notes version that someone handed them.

    For what it is worth, Rand did say in the late 1960s and early 1970s that homosexuality should be legal and that the law should not ‘interfere’ with them. But she felt it was disgusting sickness and was very uncomfortable with female homosexuality. This may be tied up with her very reactionary views on gender roles.

    So, she was probably one of the first ‘public figures’ to come out against the anti-gay criminal laws in America. The YUPPIE party had done so around the same time. I think the Socialist Party USA in the late 1940s – 1950s had come very close to drafting a platform plank on the issue.

    Kinsey probably implied as much in his research, but not sure if he made a public statement about it (legalize gay sex) or not. Emma Goldman — a left wing anarchist — had said something similar much earlier, although I have never actually seen the quote.

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