Friendly Fire

Don't mistake comments on imaginary gay sons and friends for a softening of Rick Santorum's anti-gay bigotry

by Sean Bugg
Published on January 12, 2012, 5:27am | Comments

''Some of my best friends are [fill in the blank]'' is deservedly one of the most mocked phrases in the English language, given that it always leads those of us who often fill in that blank to consider another common phrase, ''With friends like this, who needs enemies?''

And there's a lot to consider these days, when even Republican social conservatives find themselves needing to say something — anything — positive about homosexuals in order not to come across as a raving bigot (even if the definition fits). The most recent case in point is former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's daughter claiming she not only has gay friends, but that those friends support her father's presidential campaign position on homosexuals.

Short version: He's against them. Which leads to some pretty interesting questions, like whether those ''gay friends'' are real, or just a Republican Snuffleupagus.

I've sat and listened to Maggie Gallagher make the same ''friends'' argument, claiming that she knows gay people who support her National Organization for Marriage's crusade against marriage equality. And, to be honest, I don't doubt her. That's because I've met those people before.

You've probably met one or two of them as well. Often a little bit older though sometimes dismayingly younger, disdainful of anything that smacks of gay culture outside of show tunes, still living in a decades-old closet that's transparent to everyone but the person living in it. The people who would be friends and supporters of Gallagher and Santorum are the people who internalized every negative thing society told them about homosexuality and then turned the resulting bitterness against the very community that would offer them support if they would only find the strength to take it.

This is why the legacy of Frank Kameny and many others of his generation is so important. They refused to be stuffed into a closet or to pathologize themselves. They laid the foundations for a society where we could make those same choices more easily, a society where even bigots have to pretend to be friendly if they want to get elected to office.

Despite the fact that Santorum took a well-deserved bruising Tuesday night in New Hampshire, I'm still annoyed by some of the late-week coverage that took his answer to a debate question on how he would respond to having a gay son — ''I'd love him just as much as I did the second before he told me'' — to be a softening of his position on gays. It's not, because the obvious follow-up question of whether he would attend that hypothetical son's big gay wedding went unasked, and I think we're all pretty sure what the answer to that one would be.

When it comes to anti-gay politicians playing the ''Some of my best friends are gay'' card, it's simply the same old fraud of ''Love the sinner, hate the sin.'' Because, first problem, they view you as a sinner. Second problem, they consider a sinner as someone who can, and should, be changed. I grew up surrounded with the language of salvation and it left a mark. When people use that language about gays and lesbians, they're saying you and I are less than. Less than equal, less than people, less than citizens.

The Santorums and Gallaghers of the world are welcome to their miniscule number of gay friends. In the end, we're better off without them.


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