“If you think I have a right to live, you may find that what Mr. Arkes has said will turn your stomach.”
From: Robert Nathan
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2010 4:38 PM
Subject: [AMHERST-AMHERST-1970] A man walks into a bar…
We’ve all been there. Someone, usually very drunk, corners you in a bar and harangues you on the conspiracy to hide the cancer risks of cell phones or how 9/11 was actually the work of the Mossad. I don’t want to sound like one of those people, and as of this morning I was planning to write to you to find out if anyone would object to having “Lives of Consequence: The E-Mails” published. We could raise a nice piece of change and send the College a check. But let’s save that for another time and go to two subjects of less importance but more immediacy — specifically, whether I’ve treated another human being unfairly and my right to stay alive. Yes, my right to life. (As Jack says in the movie: “I like my nose. I like breathing out of it.”)
I want to thank Drew and Paul for their comments on our dinner guests, but honestly, believe me, it’s a subject I hoped to put aside. It’s also a subject that, as far I can tell, many of my classmates have begun to find entirely over the top. By the time of this reunion, I figured that most of you had heard about as much as you wanted to hear from me on the subject of Mr. Arkes. And I’d said all I wanted to say. Now I’ve been hearing that I treated the man unfairly, that Mr. Arkes, like many reasonable people, may not approve of gay marriage but has no general animosity toward gay people and wouldn’t do anything to actually harm them. What can I say? It just ain’t so. If you think I have a right to live, you may find that what Mr. Arkes has said will turn your stomach. Read what he says, read what he’s done, and then decide if he’s putting my life at risk. And anyone who knows a teenage boy who might be gay should be seriously worried about what Mr. Arkes and his friends have in store for him. We have enough dead kids already.
By reunion weekend, on Friday afternoon at about 3 o’clock, I had put the topic of Mr. Arkes away. While the comparison to Leslie Gore is heartwarming (thank you, Drew), the fact is that our class’s reunion isn’t my party. It was the class’s party, and it was a great party and then some, and I’m so very grateful to have been there. So what about this question of who gets invited to dinner? If some of those organizing the reunion, which is a lot of work, think it’s okay to have a dinner guest with views that I consider extremist, then at a certain point it’s not worth talking about. I may think those views are dangerous, and they may in particular be dangerous to my own physical safety and well-being, but some people obviously don’t see Mr. Arkes as extremist at all. For example, the editors of the Wall Street Journal think highly of him. As do the editors of National Review. As does the Family Research Council, an organization that Mr. Arkes has written for and been affiliated with and an organization that has the protection of fundamental human rights at the top of its agenda. Its motto is “Defending Faith, Family, and Freedom.”
I might digress for a second to note that among the rights that the Family Research Council supports, alas, are not the rights of gay people. But it apparently does support the very specific right to hire gay people to carry your luggage. If you’re a co-founder of the Family Research Council and want the right to take a European vacation with a male prostitute, and then return to say that you hired him as your luggage-handler while having the right to deny that you’re a homosexual (and thus declare yourself a hypocrite) — all of those rights the FRC supports vigorously. If you missed this particular piece of the news cycle, you missed one of the great American sideshows of the past few years. Prior to this, the senator and the men’s room toe-tapping incident held the recent top prize for gall and hypocrisy. It took a man of great stature, the co-founder of the Family Research Council, to snatch it away with such ease.
I think we can all agree that subscribing to or writing for the Wall Street Journal or the National Review doesn’t make you a bad person, any more than it makes me a bad person because I’ve written for The Nation. We can’t quite say the same for people who are shills for the Family Research Council. That puts you in the company of folks you might not want to be associated with. They say and do some fairly dreadful things. Among those things, I’ve noticed, is that they make pretty obvious the fact that they think it’s okay to kill me. Trust me, I’m not exaggerating. This isn’t about marriage or adoption. This is about whether I get to breathe. Yes, I’m concerned about my marriage rights, but far more concerned about my breathing rights.
One further digression. A member of our class, a man for whom I really do have great respect, suggested prior to the reunion that gay people at least ought to be grateful for how far things have come. He has a point. They can’t arrest us for living together. If we get beat up by a couple of thugs, a hate-crimes law might apply. If we book a hotel room at the Holiday Inn, the Supreme Court said the cops can’t bust the door down and haul us off to jail. (Although, given the current Court, who knows how long that right will last?) I’m grateful that after 28 years of what seems to me to be marriage, my spouse is allowed by some (but not all) hospitals to sit in an Emergency Room cubicle while a doctor finds out if my chest pains equal a heart attack. (They haven’t so far.) I guess I should be miserable that my marriage doesn’t compare very well to Larry Craig’s or the marriages of the guy traveling with the male prostitute or Ted Haggard or all three of New Gingrich’s. Now those guys, they’re living proof that my marriage is meaningless and theirs are sanctified because theirs are, in Mr. Arkes’s view, “natural.” (I guess in The World According to Arkes, fidelity’s not terribly important. News reports said that Mr. Gingrich’s first two experiences in wedlock ended after “affairs with younger women” while “his wives were seriously ill.” Now there’s an ad for family values.) I should mention that there were moments long ago in my own life when, like our classmate, I suggested that minorities be grateful for the crumbs they’d been tossed. I look back and can’t imagine how such stupidity overtook me. I’ll go to my grave knowing — and I’m serious — that St. Peter’s going to call me out on that stupidity and send me straight to Hell.
Back to the point, I had planned to leave the subject of Mr. Arkes alone, but it seems that Mr. Arkes himself may have wanted the subject brought up. He managed to appear at the panel Duboff, Webber, and I did; he managed to sit in the top row; he managed to sit dead center. He could hardly have called more attention to himself had he come dressed in the American flag. He also apparently sent an emissary out to the back yard of Psi U to inform me that Mr. Arkes was a fine man, which I would discover if only I would come inside and just get to know him.
The questions that I’d wanted to leave aside were thus raised at the class’s party. Mr. Arkes had put them back on the table. Should he have been invited to dinner? Depends on whom you like to break bread with. Before the reunion, I was called to task for applying the word “fascist” to Mr. Arkes’s friends and their tactics. The word was not chosen carelessly, as you may be able to see below. Call me picky; I prefer not to dine with fascists, particularly the ones who are actively working to get me killed. I’m sure plenty of people choose not to dine with gay people, and that’s their right. It’s a free country, for the moment anyway.
What are our standards? With whom would we dine? Would we invite to dinner a political activist who announced that all soldiers who served in the United States Army in Iraq should be jailed as baby-killers? Would we invite to our dinner someone who didn’t actually say we should jail soldiers as baby-killers but who celebrated an organization that promoted this as its policy? If a man says, “I’m an Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan but I have no animosity toward black people,” would we invite him to dinner? He only belongs to the Klan, but he doesn’t actively kill people. What if a man belonged to a country club that didn’t admit blacks or Catholics or Jews or Mormons or women to play golf? What if he said he belonged to the club but abhorred its position about access to the golf course? Would that be a problem?
The point is this: Mr. Arkes’s positions on marriage and adoption are beside the point. This is about fomenting hatred of people. Hatred begets hatred begets violence. That’s where my breathing rights enter the picture.
Mr. Arkes would have you believe that he doesn’t actively hate gay people or foment hatred against them; he’s merely interested in the sanctity of marriage. But that’s not quite true. Suppose an organization actively lobbied Congress not to pass a resolution condemning Uganda’s law saying that gay people should virtually be shot on sight. Before Mr. Arkes cries “guilt by association,” let’s remember that we choose our friends and allies. Mr. Arkes writes for publications of the Family Research Council. (To be fair, he hasn’t said a word about the co-founder who toured Europe with the male prostitute.) You can’t be actively associated with an organization and somehow selectively separate yourself from its public positions, particularly when you have espoused similar opinions elsewhere. Even Justice Sotomayor knew these rules. When she found herself to be a member of an organization that was comprised only of women and did not admit men, she resigned. Mr. Arkes chooses to march in the Family Research Council’s parade, and the FRC had two choices about Congress and the laws of Uganda. Option One: It could shut up and take no stand on the Ugandan law. Option Two: It could actively lobby Congress not to condemn the law. The FRC chose Option Two.
You don’t have to endorse gay rights in order to take a stand against a country that legislates the killing of gay people for the crime of being gay. If you actively try to stop the condemnation of that killing, are you fomenting hatred against gay people? I would argue, yes, you are. If you make it easier for a government to kill gay people, are you making the lives of homosexuals everywhere more dangerous? I would say, you are.
Even more to the point, if you suggest that teenagers should be taught in school that gay people are disease-carriers, as Mr. Arkes has suggested (see below), and that homosexuality can be cured, are you indirectly causing harm to gay teenagers? Every respectable public health expert will tell you that the rise in the suicide rate among teenagers in this country can in significant measure be explained by the rise in the number of gay kids killing themselves. At the risk of being intemperate, I would suggest that those who foment hatred against gay people, those who suggest that it’s perfectly okay to kill gay people, those who tell teenage boys that they are nothing but disease-carriers, those who implicitly tell parents to hate their own children — I would suggest that people who do these things have blood on their hands, the blood of children who killed themselves because of intolerance and hatred.
About that lobbying of Congress, it’s been reported many places, among them here:
As for Mr. Arkes’s affiliation with the Family Research Council, you can look here:
To return to our reunion, I think I can say with some assurance that my classmate was dead wrong about one thing. I would not discover what a fine man Mr. Arkes is if only I got to know him. The reason is, I do know him. I know him by what he says and by the company he keeps and by what he and they say. They say not only that states should never allow gay people to adopt children, they’ve suggested that gay people are so unfit to raise children that they should have their biological kids taken away from them by the state. (I hear echoes here of something like Nazism, but then again, my hearing has worsened with age.) The idea that gay people cannot be decent parents will come as a horrible shock to my two friends who’ve raised their two daughters to be the most wonderful, bright, and charming kids in the world. Mr. Arkes appears in a video with his friend Charles Colson in which Colson announces “that failure to stop the ‘gay-marriage juggernaut … is Armageddon’ and the end to freedom of religion.” The distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom of” got lost there, but these people aren’t big on intellectual honesty. And the only sign I’ve noticed lately suggesting that Armageddon is near is that doctors who perform legal medical procedures are getting shot in their own homes. Shooting a doctor who’s the father of four young children — I wonder, does Mr. Arkes think that’s a bad sign for society? Two adults engaging in consensual sexual relations somehow, in my book, doesn’t seem quite as bad. But I’m biased. Killing people seems much worse to me than people having sex.
You’ll find description of the video and the prediction of Armageddon here:
About those teenagers, and as for fomenting dangerous hatred, here’s what Mr. Arkes suggests be taught in our schools:
“Then education it should be: The life-shortening hazards of homosexual behavior should be conveyed, along with information about the other hazards of incautious sex; the record of conversions from the homosexual life should be put in texts along with the inconclusive arguments over the ‘gay gene.'”
If this isn’t fomenting hatred, I don’t know what is. Imagine your son being gay and hearing this in a classroom. Would you be surprised to find him hanging in the garage? Talk about life-shortening hazards. And about those, how did I manage to stay alive all these years? How is it that of all the gay men I’ve known in 30 years, only two have died young of HIV? As for all the gay women I’ve known, they’re all alive. About those conversions “from the homosexual life,” there’s not a respectable or reputable psychiatrist anywhere who says such things are possible. The American Psychiatric Association says that attempts to “cure” gay people are useless, cruel, and stupid. Mr. Arkes may be right that arguments about the “gay gene” are inconclusive, but the argument itself is preternaturally dumb; justifying bigotry based on “causes” is simply ignorant. Anyway, who in G-d’s name would choose to be gay and ask for a lifetime of abuse? But if we accept the argument that “born gay” is somehow better than “choosing” to be gay, genetics strongly suggests that gay people are born, not made. From the New York Times, December 17, 1991. “We found 52 percent of identical twin brothers of gay men also were gay, compared with 22 percent of fraternal twins, compared with 11 percent of genetically unrelated brothers,” said J. Michael Bailey, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, “which is exactly the kind of pattern you would want to see if something genetic were going on.” By “unrelated,” Dr. Bailey was referring to brothers by adoption. “The genetically most similar brothers were also the ones most likely to be gay, by a large margin,” he added.
Why did the Iowa Supreme Court overturn the state’s Defense of Marriage Act? Did you guess right? Here’s Mr. Arkes explaining that it’s Barack Obama’s fault. Also the fault of the heathens.
“Why should it have been a surprise? It was well understood, even before November, that the election of Barack Obama would be taken as the green light for judges throughout the country to plunge ahead to install same-sex marriage…. The judges insist that they detect a moral understanding grounded in religions conviction. Hence, the law was imposing religious beliefs on those who don’t share them.”
First of all, Barack Obama has stated frequently his opposition to gay marriage. Second, the underlying sophistry here is astounding. Mr. Arkes argues that marriage is a religious institution, not a civil one. Under that standard, the entire society is in trouble. Marriage in this society is and always has been a civil contract governed by civil law, whether Mr. Arkes likes it or not. Moreover, he argues that religious morality should be the only morality with legal weight. This suggests that atheists are by definition immoral. Shall we deny them the rights of citizenship? Shall atheists be forbidden a marriage certificate? And what a nifty bag of tricks Mr. Arkes employs! First, it’s that passive voice trick. “It was well understood before November…” Really? Understood by whom? Was there a secret handshake Obama shared with judges all over the country? Second, it’s the displacement trick. Attack marriage rights, and when a court disagrees with you, announce that it’s Barack Obama’s fault. If he worked a little harder, Mr. Arkes could probably blame Obama for the weather.
Here’s one so remarkable that you can hardly believe it. This one will leave you wide-eyed and gaping. Here is Mr. Arkes — while making his argument against gay marriage — on the broader subject of the federal courts:
“The law in Virginia once barred marriages across racial lines, and when the Supreme Court struck down that law in 1967, was that not a move to trump the local law on marriage with the law of the federal Constitution? And did we not find the same federal overriding of family law when the Court struck down a scheme of assigning children on the basis of color in dealing with divorce, and settling custody, in mixed racial marriages?”
Mr. Arkes seems to suggest that Loving v. Virginia — staggeringly enough, decided when we were freshmen in college — was wrongly decided. You’d have thought the Supreme Court knew what it was doing when it said states couldn’t forbid black people and white people from marrying each other. For Mr. Arkes, this is strange but relatively safe territory. He knows that miscegenation laws aren’t coming back, and he knows that few courts will say that children of one race cannot be adopted by parents of another. But he must attack the Supreme Court on two counts as a preemptive attack on any federal judge who might apply the Equal Protection clause to gay people, their right to get married, or their right to adopt children. It’s stunning when you think about it. His venomous hatred for gay people is so strong that he’s casually willing to sound like the worst kind of unreconstructed racist.
Here’s Mr. Arkes on the subject of gay people pursuing their civil rights:
“Surely it is 1984 once more with the inversion of words: Under the banner of love there is loosed a barrage of hatred, and in the name of freedom, repression.”
Who’s repressing whom? Who’s unleashing hatred? When I was growing up, we called that “calling the kettle black.” Which gay people have enough power to “repress” anyone else’s rights? Apparently Mr. Arkes thinks if I get married, I have “repressed” his right to be a bigot. Or I suppose if I have children, I’ve “repressed” his right to control my fertility. That wouldn’t be a surprise since he’s already made clear that he thinks women have no right to control theirs.
There you are. If I’m still around, I’ll look forward to our next reunion whether or not Mr. Arkes, if he’s still around, is invited to dinner. Although if we’re going to invite him, let’s make it interesting. Let’s invite Reverend Farrakhan and Gore Vidal (if he’s still alive he’ll be 90), and put them on a stage with Mr. Arkes to debate the future of our society. Wouldn’t that be a whole lot more entertaining than anything Rob, Alan, and I could come up with?
For those who got this far, thank you for listening.
My best to all of you,