Strange Bedfellows

A high-profile case of incest drags gays into its grip, and everyone's pointing fingers

In all the hubbub of closing out 2010, with lame ducks and snowstorms, one little story with all the makings of TMZ-esque high drama – minus the celebrity – failed to gain much traction, thankfully. It’s the case of the Columbia University professor who has been charged with having ongoing sexual relations with his adult daughter.

On its own, I wouldn’t have much interest in this story. But because it has pulled gay politics into its orbit, I am compelled to look.

What really got things going was a comment from Matthew Galluzzo, attorney for the accused, David Epstein, reported by ABCNews.com: ”It’s okay for homosexuals to do whatever they want in their own home. How is this so different? We have to figure out why some behavior is tolerated and some is not.”

Of course, the reasonable, conventional reflex from the gay community and its allies would be an utter repudiation of that rationale, with arguments, diagrams and psychoanalysis as to why incest and homosexuality are apples and oranges. The posts debating the comparison go on for inches at The Huffington Post. Over at Slate, William Saletan writes, in part: ”Homosexuality is an orientation. Incest isn’t. If the law bans gay sex, a lesbian can’t have a sex life. But if you’re hot for your sister, and the law says you can’t sleep with her, you have billions of other options. Get out of your house, for God’s sake. You’ll find somebody to love without incinerating your family. And don’t tell me you’re just adding a second kind of love to your relationship. That’s like adding a second kind of life to your body. When a second kind of life grows in your body, we call it cancer. That’s what incest is: cancer of the family.”

The portion of Saletan’s argument that boils down to the gay taboo of same-sex lovin’ being the only avenue available for gay people, while someone with an incestuous attraction could simply look elsewhere, has some merit. Although, some on the right would argue that his hypothetical lesbian could submit herself to ”reparative therapy” and marry a nice fellah. He also argues that incest destroys families. Many on the right would argue the same about homosexuality. ”Why are you choosing this? Don’t you know it’s killing your father?”

The arguments from the socially conservative Christian corner are presented fairly concisely by blogger Jack Hudson in a post titled, ”Where’s the Bottom?” Obvious – though likely unintended – pun aside, Hudson invokes the ”slippery slope.”

”…[I]f we accept the arguments and reasoning that allow for gay marriage, we must therefore allow for other consensual adult relationships of the sort David Epstein and others want to have,” Hudson writes in response to Saletan. ”If we dismiss moral, traditional and historical prohibitions then there is no reason legally or biologically to disallow wither incestuous or polygamous relationships. What is clear is that we are not heading toward a slippery slope but a moral and societal abyss.”

Oh, that reminds me: We’ve tried mightily to distance ourselves from ”triads,” too.

In the ways that we’ve strained to outdo our oppressors, which seems a common reaction among the oppressed, aiming to prove we can surpass whatever hurdles our oppressors place before us, we perhaps emulate them in ways that make me as uncomfortable as a God-fearing, GOProud, married gay parent with four children and a golden lab when the leather/BDSM float passes at the pride parade.

I will grant that incest and homosexuality are not the same things, particularly when it comes to a parent and child. But I may also feel uncomfortable when I see an employer bedding an employee or a teacher fooling around with a pupil. But I’m not going to feel threatened if someone equates the two for the sake of legal argument. Why should I feel uncomfortable? You want incest? Go read the Bible – it’s full of it. All of it heterosexual, I should add.

The human norm evolved so that we have two sexes, each sexually attracted to the opposite, leading to reproduction. That norm has often been enshrined into law. But I don’t want to submit to such laws because I am gay. If I was one of those kinky Bel Ami ”twincest” twins, Milo and Elijah Peters, considering my brother my boyfriend, I might also resent the laws against incest. I can promise, however, my straight brother and I will never be getting it on. That does not, however, put me in any position to support a law telling Milo and Elijah they can’t do their (highly lucrative) thing. Science provides evidence that incest is repugnant on a biological level. Prison and girls colleges notwithstanding, straight people are generally averse to having sex with members of their own gender.

So I just can’t get that worked up about two grown people having an incestuous relationship. Even in the case of the Epsteins where a line has been crossed between parent and child and there may be psychological fallout for years to come for the latter, she was an adult when this began. Was she coerced by a power figure? Quite possibly. But I imagine she still has a full belly and roof over her head, which means I’m going to worry far less about her well-being than that of a homeless and hungry sex worker, coerced by circumstance. And for those who do care, who demand laws to prevent this sort of thing, who are you kidding? I don’t really know how such laws might affect the incestuous, but I can tell you that attempts to ban homosexuality did little more than ruin lives – of the persecuted, of those forced into unhappy marriages, and sometimes the children of those marriages. They did not help society. And with or without such laws, the number of gay people remains the same.

I’ve been told my sexual expression is disgusting, though that was far truer 20 or 30 years ago. Now that I can get married and join the Army, I could wrap myself in propriety and call others disgusting. Because of my experience, having to consider and dissect and wear my sexuality for decades, rather than simply take it for granted, I cannot. Instead, I grant that if two – or 10 – adults consent to sexual activity, it’s really none of my business. If the thought of it makes me feel foul, I will think about something else. And if I worry about my civilization hanging by a thread, I’ll give far, far more attention to fighting poverty, environmental degradation and disease, rather than to who is diddling whom.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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