Michael Kinsley Speaks Up for the Misunderstood HomophobesS

Last week, peripatetic contrarian-liberal editor-pundit Michael Kinsley used his newish column in his old magazine, the New Republic, to complain about the closed-mindedness and intolerance that supporters of gay marriage have displaying toward their opponents:

The proponents of marriage equality have not just won. They have routed the opposition. It’s a moment to be gracious, not vindictive.

There are those who would have you think that gays and liberals are conducting some sort of jihad against organized Christianity and that gay marriage is one of the battlefields. That is a tremendous exaggeration. But it’s not a complete fantasy. And for every mouth that opens, a dozen stay clamped shut.

Michael Kinsley is not against gay marriage, personally. He invented gay marriage, as he tells it, with the help of Andrew Sullivan:

The first known mention of gay marriage is an article (“Here Comes the Groom” by Andrew Sullivan) commissioned by me and published in this magazine in 1989.

"First known mention," you say? But we are not here to argue about the past. We are here to talk about the terrible things that are being done today, in the name of gay marriage. The occasion for Kinsley's distress was the news that Dr. Ben Carson, the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, would not be delivering the commencement address at the Hopkins School of Medicine.

Carson, a heroic and innovative surgeon, plans to quit medicine this summer, apparently to focus on a burgeoning career as a conservative media personality. In that latter role, discussing his support for "traditional marriage," he had compared gay people to pedophiles and practitioners of bestiality. Some people—oversensitive people, in Kinsley's account—took offense, even though Carson later apologized for having used offensive words to express his belief that gay people's consensual relationships are morally abhorrent.

So he stepped down as graduation speaker, but with parting remarks of dismay at the "emphasis on political correctness." And if you were editing magazines and having opinions as the '80s turned into the '90s, as Michael Kinsley was (when he invented gay marriage), you know that there is no force more pernicious in American culture than political correctness. Political correctness destroyed American discourse, creating a situation in which people felt free to say that other people's ideas were wrong and bad and harmful, as people said to Ben Carson, after he started going on television to promote his political ideas.

Kinsley is appalled by this process:

Behind the First Amendment is the notion that good ideas have a natural buoyancy that bad ideas do not. In fact, the very short (as these things go) debate about marriage equality demonstrates this. Denying Carson the right to speak was not just unprincipled. It was unnecessary.

It is a little odd that a person who has spent his career disagreeing with other people's ideas in print (and, for a while, arguing with other people on television) should be confused about the difference between the "right to speak" and the right to speak without being criticized, the latter of which is what the jackbooted Gay Thought Police were actually denying Carson. How do good ideas float up above bad ideas, in Kinsley's formulation, if not through people speaking in favor of the good and against the bad?

Eventually, Kinsley molds his argument all the way into a Klein bottle, so he can pour his logic up its own behind: Gay marriage supporters are assured of winning the conflict over gay marriage, so it is ungracious of them to keep fighting bitterly against their opponents, whose point of view deserves respect because the conflict over gay marriage has not been settled yet.

The day will come, probably next Tuesday at the rate things are going, when previous opposition to the idea of same-sex marriage will seem bizarre and require explaining, like membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the youths of some old Southerners—are there any left?—on Capitol Hill. But we’re not quite there yet. At the moment, simply opposing gay marriage doesn’t make you a homophobe, any more than opposing affirmative action makes you a racist or opposition to settlements on the West Bank makes you an anti-Semite.

This is one of those passages that become especially rewarding if you pretend it's four or five decades ago and replace "same-sex" or "gay" with "interracial." Future generations will understand that opponents of gay marriage were bigots, but that future hasn't arrived, so it's wrong to say the bigots are bigots.

Oh, but, look: It's next Tuesday now. What has happened since Kinsley made his case on behalf of the people who aren't yet ready to accept gay people as equal? Over the weekend, Mark Carson, a gay man, was fatally shot in the face in New York City, apparently murdered by someone who was offended by seeing him walking out in public with a man. Two more gay-bashing attacks reportedly happened in New York last night. Overseas, Georgian Orthodox priests led a rock-throwing mob against a gay-rights march. And the most pressing gay-rights issue is whether people are being too easily offended by homophobia? Hey, Michael Kinsley: Shut the fuck up.