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Did Michael Kinsley Invent the Concept of Same-Sex Marriage?

[ 120 ] May 17, 2013 |

You would think that Michael Kinsley’s defense of austerity would be the most glibly know-nothing thing you’d read all week. And you might still be right, but Kinsley has decided to make it interesting. His basic argument is that we should leave Ben Carson alllonnnnnnnne! because lots of people who weren’t notably homophobic didn’t support same-sex marriage rights until recently. Well, maybe not entirely unreasonable on its face. But is it applicable to Carson? Kinsley saves us some time by taking his own argument behind the office building and firing twenty shots into it with one of those new smart rifles:

Carson is the latest Great Black Hope for the Republican Party, which is quickly running out of African American conservatives to make famous. But Carson’s appearance was not a success. He should have left bestiality out of it. And any reference to NAMBLA—the “North American Man / Boy Love Association”—is pretty good evidence that we have left the realm of rational discussion and entered radio talk-show territory.

I will concede that there are non-homophobes, especially in public life, who came too late to supporting same-sex marriage rights. It seems pretty obvious that people who are still comparing supporters of same-sex marriage to pedophiles and people who have sex with animals are not part of this group but are just homophobes, full stop. How can a defense of Carson possibly proceed from here? Very unconvincingly:

Carson may qualify as a homophobe by today’s standards. But then they don’t make homophobes like they used to. Carson denies hating gay people, while your classic homophobe revels in it.

I hate to tell you, but disavowing hatred is pretty much the first play in the respectable homophobe’s playbook. “Hate the sin, not the sinner” and all that. Tony Perkins claims not to hate gays and lesbians. It’s like saying that Richard Russell couldn’t have been a white supremacist because he didn’t use the same racial slurs Theodore Bilbo did.  And comparing gays and lesbians to pedophiles is homophobic by the standards of 25 years ago.

But, anyway, this is just a garden-variety bad argument, and I wouldn’t have bothered addressing it if it wasn’t for this great moment in unwarranted self-aggrandizement:

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.

I…wow. I don’t mean to suggest that the Sullivan article wasn’t important in its way, or to deny Kinsley his appropriate share of the credit for publishing it.  But “first known mention?” I don’t know what the very first was, but I do know that there were lawsuits claiming that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional that made it to state appellate courts in Minnesota, Kentucky, and Washington between 1971 and 1974. Nor was the concept unknown in mainstream news sources during the 70s. It’s just remarkable that Kinsley wouldn’t bother to take a little time to check out this implausible, self-serving claim.

In reference to Kinsley’s austerity self-immolation, a couple of colleagues noted that Kinsley has the strengths and defects of the clever high-school debater: he writes well, and give him something — like a Wall Street Journal editorial — that’s illogical on its face and he can do an excellent job on it. But his knowledge of both history and contemporary policy is puddle-deep, and he feels no need to try to learn something before making definitive pronouncements. Claiming to be personally responsible for inventing the concept of same-sex marriage 1989, though, takes this problem to a new extreme.

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  1. sharculese says:

    Even “respectable” homophobes have learned to stop using the NAMBLA line. Carson’s comments really were especially homophobic by current standards.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Or by standards ten years ago. Or 20.

    • Warren Terra says:

      John Cornyn made a similar comment (about abusing box turtles, which while wrong and weird isn’t as bad as abusing kids), and was denounced as a homophobe and roundly mocked as an ignoramus ten years ago. So, yeah, Carson’s homophobia is well past its sell-by date.

      PS in point of fact, Cornyn didn’t even say the Box Turtle line. He put it in his prepared remarks, which he released to the press, but thought better of it when it came time to flap his jaw. Which puts Carson even farther behind the times.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      Can’t we all just agree that paying attention to Michael Kinsley, after a long period of not really doing so, was probably a mistake? Next he’ll tell us how Springsteen really isn’t making good music any more.

  2. Tiny Tim says:

    Kinsley’s Invention of Love.

    Nero married a dude 2000 years ago.

    • rea says:

      And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

      And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house [note: the custom then was for the wife to leave her father's home and move in with the family of the husband].

      Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.

      And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle [note: a gift from the bridegroom to the bride, "mattan," was customary].

  3. NonyNony says:

    By 1981 the concept of gay marriage was so unknown and unthinkable that it was used as a punchline of a joke in Mel Brooks’s “History of the World Part I”.

    Arguing that folks in 1989 were so dumbfounded by the very concept of gay marriage that they would go “Whaaa?” when presented with the idea by Sullivan is ludicrous and easily refutable – there is no way that a magazine like “The New Republic” would have published something that was so fringe that nobody had published anything about it before. TNR was never that kind of magazine even in its best days.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Heck, it’s the implied end of Some Like It Hot, in 1959.

      • Kyle Michel Sullivan says:

        LOL. Well…nobody’s perfect.

      • JoyfulA says:

        Ca. 1930, in my mother’s country village, two women went to the county seat and got a marriage license. Unfortunately, they were arrested a few days later and had to spend a few nights in jail before they were released to return to their common-law marriage, but it proves that same-sex marriage was a notion known to rural Pennsylvania in 1930.

    • Shakezula says:

      Arguing that folks in 1989 were so dumbfounded by the very concept of gay marriage that they would go “Whaaa?” when presented with the idea by Sullivan ^as commissioned by King Kinsley III, is ludicrous and easily refutable.

      Fixed.

      This is like me asking bspenser to create a work of art and then claiming it is the first known instance of artwork created by digitally manipulating images. (I hope that’s an accurate description.)

      Except, bspenser a) Is actually very good at what she does and
      b) Would lead the chorus of mockery if I made such a claim.

      • Aimai says:

        Uh… Boston marriage, anyone? Well k own euphemism for lesbian unions in New England.

        • Jay C says:

          Except that the circumlocution of “Boston marriage”, while a commonplace euphemism dating back, I think, to the 19th Century, referred to a strictly personal arrangement-of-affairs between the participating “spinsters” – their legal status (as was common with most gay unions until very very recently, was that of mere “friends” with little in the way of official rights: except as far the “legitimate” families might allow. Which was typically little-or-none.

  4. Miriam says:

    Interesting claim. Or, he could have spent 5 minutes on research and noted that the 1969 manifesto of the North Americal Conference of Homophile Organizations included the demand “We call upon the churches to sanction homosexual liaisons when called upon to do so by the parties concerned.”

  5. Scott P. says:

    Hey, it’s the first mention known to Kinsley. And if Kinsley doesn’t know about it, it’s probably not that important.

  6. John F says:

    I hate to tell you, but disavowing hatred is pretty much the first play in the respectable homophobe’s playbook.

    Disavowing hatred is pretty much the first play in the respectable racists’s playbook as well.

  7. Eric Jaffa says:

    As you referred to:

    “On May 18, 1970, two University of Minnesota gay student activists, Richard Baker and James Michael McConnell, applied for a marriage license in Minneapolis. The clerk of the Hennepin County District Court, Gerald Nelson, denied the request on the sole ground that the two were of the same sex. The couple filed suit in district court to force Nelson to issue the license.” (Wikipedia).

  8. Shakezula says:

    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.

    That is 32 flavors of hilarious FAIL.

    Also, people who claim that the definition of bigotry includes a declaration by the bigot of hatred for the targeted group are, at best, morons. However, I assume they’re bigots.

  9. Boots Day says:

    If Andrew Sullivan had really been the first person to mention gay marriage, I’m sure we would have heard Andrew Sullivan mention that fact about eleventy-jillion times by now.

  10. SamR says:

    Guys, when Kinsley says “the first known mention” of SSM, he is clearly referring to the fact that its the first mention he’s deigned to make himself aware of, and since he’s the center of universe, its the first known mention.

    Conduct yourselves accordingly.

  11. sharculese says:

    It occurs to me that this sort of mythologizing seems more Sullivan’s bent than Kinsley’s though, so I wonder if it’s something he heard from Sullivan and just assumed to be fact because he neither knows nor cares enough to check.

    • DivGuy says:

      No, that’s not Sullivan at all. He knows the history of the gay rights movement. He’s got some stupid interpretations of the history in various places, but he knows it.

      That’s all Kinsley. He’s the Village, through and through.

      • Warren Terra says:

        I am pretty sure Sullivan does say things similar to what Kinsley said, i.e. “an argument that’s never been made before in such detail or with such care” – although, perhaps he says such not about the article in TNR but about the book it was either excerpted from or expanded into. That’s my recollection, anyway; maybe I’m overinterpreting the bits where he pats himself on the back because he’s been fighting this cause for decades and mistakenly thinking he’s trying to take credit for inventing it/popularizing it.

  12. Mean Mister Mustard says:

    Kinsley used to be the putative liberal counter-weight to Wm F, Buckley and Pat Buchanan didn’t he?

    Really what would one expect from an atheist with Parkinsons?

  13. Uncle Kvetch says:

    “OK, he should have left out the reference to Jews using the blood of Christian babies to make matzoh. But not once did he utter the words ‘kike’ or ‘heeb.’ So let’s cut the guy some slack, huh?”

  14. Samuel Knight says:

    Kinsley is clearly an upper class twit as so famously parodied by Monty Python eons ago, but I don’t in any way think it’s funny or pertinent to mention the Parkinsons.

    There is also some irony is that he was the editor of Slate who brought Krugman into the limelight. Makes it incredibly sad to see him turnaround and charge idiotically against him now.

    But I don’t think this is really disconnected to the problem with the smarty pants neo-liberalism (Economist, Kinsley, Sullivan). There constant attempts to be really clever and complicated forgot the basic rule of successfull progressive movements – do a few simple good things. You want health care? Pay for it. Want old people not to starve? Gurantee a minimum income. Don’t want to fight all over the place? Don’t have a big military, etc. KISS works in politics too.

    • Royko says:

      As a pundit, he reminds me a little of Stephen Colbert’s character. The truthiness is strong with him.

    • STH says:

      Yeah, I don’t think anybody else thought the Parkinson’s was funny or pertinent, either.

    • Johnny Pez says:

      There is also some irony is that he was the editor of Slate who brought Krugman into the limelight.

      Ah. This explains much.

      Presumably Kinsley was expecting Krugman to continue to be a good Eventheliberal in the classic TNR/Slate manner, but instead of giving folks the old “You know, the conservatives have a point” routine, Krgthulu keeps mocking them and pointing out how stupid/evil they are.

      I’m sure Kinsley feels terribly betrayed.

  15. mds says:

    Kinsley saves us some time by taking his own argument behind the office building and firing twenty shots into it with one of those new smart rifles

    See, this is exactly the sort of violent rhetoric that’s the real culprit in all those cases of loons mowing down civilians with high-capacity semi-automatic rifles. Thanks to the Bill of Rights, we may not be able to reduce the availability of such weapons in the slightest, but we definitely need to do something about such provocative speech. For liberty.

    He should have left bestiality out of it.

    Wait, wait, wait. I’ve just run “traceroute,” and it turns out that http://www.newrepublic.com is being redirected to http://www.theonion.com. Which is a real relief, because otherwise that sentence alone would be the nuclear war equivalent of an own goal.

  16. Kurzleg says:

    I was listening to debate on the floor of the Minnesota Senate last week and heard one speaker say that just because he opposed gay marriage didn’t make him a bigot. Well, when the outcome of your opposition is identical to the one desired by bigots, then what’s the difference? Kinsley’s making the same argument with regard to Carson. Some people argue that motives matter, but I sure would like to hear how and why they do. In practice, they don’t seem to.

    • sharculese says:

      It’s a thing that Andrew Ti of Yo Is this Racist? makes a lot about people who vote Republican- even if you’re not racist yourself, if you keep voting for people you know are going to be giant racists he’s not sure what kind of slack you’re supposed to get.

      • John (not McCain) says:

        I am sick unto death of hearing supposed non-bigots claim that they have no problem with gay people and support equal marriage rights who admit to never having voted for any politician at any time who would vote in favor of pro-gay legislation of any kind. Thanks so FUCKING much for your “support”.

        • Kurzleg says:

          I have an ex-coworker who’s active in the local and state GOP and works on Republican campaigns pretty consistently (although he did work on the campaign of a high school friend who’s a Democrat). Anyway, to his credit he’s pretty actively advocated for SSM amongst his GOP peers as well as friends and family (he regularly posts Facebook statuses supportive of SSM and gets lots of guff as a result). So there are those who vote GOP and also do what they can to moderate the party’s positions on certain issues.

          But certainly there are people who “support” SSM but don’t agitate to make it happen and continue to vote for candidates who are opposed to it. These folks are very much like the SSM opponents who don’t want to be called bigots. It’s sort of boils down to put up or shut up.

        • Shakezula says:

          It is one of the nastier things about people who tout a definition of bigotry that is so narrow that only Klan members, West Burrow Boobtists and people who engage in criminal acts qualify as bigots.

          In addition to being dishonest, people do use such definitions to justify maintaining the status quo, even if it is less than ideal for large chunks of society. Instituionalized homophobia, racism, misogyny? No, no, dear sir. Those are now figments of your imagination. Oh! You people are so easily upset!

        • the original spencer says:

          who admit to never having voted for any politician at any time who would vote in favor of pro-gay legislation of any kind

          Until fairly recently, there were many parts of the country where such an opportunity may never have arisen.

  17. any moose says:

    I think this is a bit wrong.

    Yes, there were lots of people who were “not notably homophobic”.

    It wasn’t notable because there were lots and lots of people who were homophobic in this way.

    There were no people who were against same sex marriage who were simply “non-homophobes” because same-sex marriage opposition is homophobic.

    relatively non-homophobic, or not homophobic in other respects or, various other things like that but not “non-homophobes”, you sort of literally can’t be that if you’re involved in saying “well gay people we can’t give you this thing that straight people got cause we’re afraid of [??].”

    You are afraid of the gay people and of what’s gonna happen if you give them stuff.

    • Kurzleg says:

      Fear? Hate? “Principle”? As I said, motives hardly matter in the end. What matters is that, homophobe or not, the outcome of your opposition is the same as the outcome that homophobes seek.

    • JL says:

      Yeah, I am with this one.

      This is also where it might be helpful to talk about homophobic behavior as a thing people do, rather than opposing “homophobe” and “non-homophobe” classes of people. Opposing same-sex marriage is engaging in homophobic behavior. Some of the people engaging in this particular homophobic behavior engage in very little other homophobic behavior. Some of them engage in all sorts of homophobic behavior. And some people who don’t engage in this particular homophobic behavior engage in others.

      People thinking in terms of two opposing groups, one good and one bad, also frequently seem to end up thinking that this means they couldn’t possibly be homophobic in any way, since they’re enlightened folk who aren’t in the “bad” group.

      This also applies to racism, sexism, etc.

  18. politicalfootball says:

    he writes well, and give him something — like a Wall Street Journal editorial — that’s illogical on its face and he can do an excellent job on it. But his knowledge of both history and contemporary policy is puddle-deep, and he feels no need to try to learn something before making definitive pronouncements.

    Save this bit for your next blog entry on Yglesias.

  19. AuRevoirGopher says:

    Did Kinsley ever criticize Al Gore for inventing the Internet? Because that would make this a transcendent Fail.

  20. Bitter Scribe says:

    Christ, Kinsley is really going off the rails. This guy compares gays to animal-fuckers and pedophiles, and Kinsley interprets this as “views on gay rights somewhat more progressive than those of the average Democratic senator ten years ago.” Is he always this clueless when it comes to gay issues?

    • Shakezula says:

      “views on gay rights somewhat more progressive than those of the average Democratic senator ten years ago.”

      Wow. I can’t recall a single Democratic senator who said shit like this ten years ago. Maybe it was because I couldn’t hear these average voices over the loud shrieks of “OMG GAY PEOPLE ARE WALKING AROUND LIKE NORMALS, CIVILIZATION IS DOOOOMED” from the wild-eyed bigot brigade on the Republican side of the aisle.

      Man, that ties Sully’s Racism Remix of Who let the dogs out? for The Golden Emesis Basin – Dishonest Hackery award.

      • MAJeff says:

        I do remember a few Republican one’s saying such things, though. There was Ricky Santorum babbling about “man on dog” during discussion of the Lawrence decision, and Senator Cornyn included a reference to marrying box turtles in a discussion about gay folks.

        So, Senators yes, but Democratic Senators, not so much. Indeed, Carson should have a happy home among the bestiality-obsessive ranks of the GOP.

  21. Walt says:

    There is one downside to gay marriage being legal and widely accepted. It means that future generations won’t understand the joke “If you like it so much, why don’t you gay marry it!” The loss to our cultural heritage is enormous.

  22. Heron says:

    They had “Uranian Societies” in the 1800s dedicated to lobbying for equal legal recognition for homosexual attraction & relationships. IIRC the Mattachine Society itself grew out of such groups, but I could be wrong about that.

    • MAJeff says:

      A bit off.

      Mattachine was organized more along the model of the communist party, as that was the organizing model that Harry Hay was most familiar with. He drew upon a class-like analysis, but using the categories of “homophile” and “heterosexual,” to develop a model of domination. I don’t think they drew as strongly on some of those earlier groups, and Hay was likely unaware of the first gay rights organization in the U.S. (name I’m forgetting), which was organized in Chicago in the 1920s, but shut down by the cops within a few months.

  23. dan says:

    Kingsley notwithstanding, people who have apologized “if I offended anybody” haven’t apologized for what they said or did, they’ve apologized for the mistake others made in being offended by them.

  24. Just Dropping By says:

    Surprised no one has mentioned Dog Day Afternoon, released in 1975 — Sonny and Leon had been married by a defrocked priest. The real life people those characters were based on (John Wojtowicz and Ernest Aron) were similarly married way back on December 4, 1971: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wojtowicz

  25. Grrg says:

    Since no one seems to have mentioned it above, please note that the Gay Activist Alliance occupied the New York City Marriage License Office and threw an engagement party for two couples there. In 1971. There’s film footage!

  26. Bruce S says:

    My understanding is that Kinsley has health issues. Could he be completely losing it? Which raises the more critical question, why is the editor of TNR publishing this sorry stuff?

  27. Aimai says:

    I think it’s weird to argue that old Riney views that are hateful now are ok because:old people be like that. I mean, ok, if your elderly grandpa can’t relate to electricity and insists on candlelight that’s a harmless eccentricity. But if a former slave owner in 1868 insists that nothing has changed and he still can buy and sell slaves that’s not ok just because it seemed like it was legal just a few years ago. Times change and socially accepted behavior changes too. It’s no defense of asshole, prudish, of vile behaviour that “a lot of people used to think it was ok” –slavery, spousal rape,llittering, near baiting, and the inquisition all used to be ok.

  28. Aimai says:

    Jesus: old timey.

  29. Aimai says:

    Can we have an edit button? That should be bear baiting.

  30. theod says:

    Please forgive Kinsley: he is now very rich and also sick with some sort of neurological tick.

  31. redrob64 says:

    It’s just remarkable that Kinsley wouldn’t bother to take a little time to check out this implausible, self-serving claim.

    No, it’s not at all remarkable. It is, in fact, vintage Kinsley; yet another example that he is, as a friend of mine used to describe him, “a man unable to get over the wonder and self-satisfaction of finding himself a Harvard undergrad.”

  32. Unsalted Sinner says:

    Shorter Michael Kinsley:

    Sexual intercourse began
    In nineteen eighty-nine
    (which was rather late for me) -
    Between the end of the Reagan years
    And Nirvanas’ first LP.

  33. [...] of Lawyers, Guns and Money later in the article, I have a hard time believing he didn’t read this. Or he didn’t see this article that is prominently displayed on Gawker right now. However, [...]

  34. [...] useful reminder related to Michael Kinsley’s argument about how horrible it is to criticize people who compare gays and lesbians to pedophiles: Oh, but, look: It’s next Tuesday now. What has happened since Kinsley made his case on [...]

  35. [...] “mass unemployment has to make things better in the future because ice cream,” “I invented the concept of same-sex marriage in 1989 which qualifies me to say that premature anti-ho…,” and “how dare people challenge Rush Limbaugh’s inalienable right to his current [...]

  36. […] Kinsley, having long since lost his fastball, has become above all become committed to complacency. His pose is not […]

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