Opponents Peddling Selective, Defective Readings

Opponents Peddling Selective, Defective Readings

Subject: Your quotes by the wing-nuts

I read a letter to the editor recently in the Walla Walla Bulletin [in Washington State], that mentioned you. The letter writer wrote: “I have learned recently that homosexual activists actually have a hidden agenda in their effort to gain legal status for same-sex relationships: They want to destroy the concept of marriage altogether! The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) has recently published a report that quotes homosexual activists about this real agenda. One of them is Michelangelo Signorile, who says that homosexuals should ‘fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely.’”

As a gay man I’m familiar with your writing, so naturally I was curious to see exactly what TVC had to say about you. On their site, they offer a longer quote, but I’m guessing there’s some serious paraphrasing going on there. I wasn’t able to find that article anywhere on the web including Out.com. I’ve actually seen this quote in other publications too. Can you explain what it was you were saying?

Re: Your quotes by the wing-nuts

Thanks for writing me about this, as I’d love the opportunity to clear the air, finally, after ten years of seeing these quotes twisted. They’ve been posted on right wing web sites, sent in e-mail alerts, and quoted in publications ad nauseam. This is about something much larger than the marriage debate itself. It’s really about how the religious right takes quotes out of context and distorts statements, with no accountability whatsoever, and how a statement can be quoted over and over again, with no one going back to the original source.

I have seen these quotes pop up in the columns of nutty right wing commentators who clearly just lifted them from the Tradition Values Coalition web site without checking them first. Two weeks ago, I appeared on the Fox News Channel debating Janet LaRue from Concerned Women for America, and what do you suppose she pulled out of her bag of tricks? Yep, those decade-old quotes.

It’s correct that the original source was Out magazine––an 11,000-word article there all about the same-sex marriage debacle that played out in Hawaii in the early 90s. I went to Hawaii in the summer of 1993, interviewed scores of people there as well as others in the burgeoning marriage movement on the mainland, and wrote a piece that covered all sides of the debate in the gay community and beyond.

Out of that 11,000-word story, TVC lifted less than 50 words, taken from here and there, and which represented only one of many points of view articulated in the piece.

On its web site TVC states: “Michelangelo Signorile, writing in Out! magazine, has stated that homosexuals should ‘…fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely… To debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution… The most subversive action lesbians and gays can undertake––and one that would perhaps benefit all of society––is to transform the notion of ‘family’ altogether.’”

In the Out story, which can be found in any library that stocks back issues (December, 1993/January, 1994), toward the end of the piece, I discussed the varying points of view in the gay community on same-sex marriage at the time. I quoted those who saw marriage as an oppressive institution––one that has not treated women and children well in the past––and who believed that we should not mimic it or want access to it. I also quoted those who saw marriage as a way to make us assimilate into the culture and as a way to “civilize” gay men and their sexual urges.

Both of these positions, I found, were pretty extreme. I looked at still other points of view, and I also proposed what “might” be a compromise––I didn’t even say whether I agreed with it or not––stating that redefining the institution of marriage to change its negative aspects while demanding marriage rights was one way to go.

And actually, I think most gay people have now, ten years later, found that middle ground, as marriage is and always has been an evolving institution shaped by the people and issues of the day. Many gay people want the rights and benefits of marriage, but no, they don’t want its past oppressive trappings. At the same time, they don’t want marriage to somehow make them straight or to “civilize” them. That’s an offensive notion for me and many other gay and lesbian folks–-even though, yes, I’m sure there are some gay people who hold this opinion.

We simply want complete equality with straights.

With regard to transforming the family, gay people can and have transformed the notion of “family” and will continue to do so, in a positive way––by coming out of the closet, and now by getting married as well. That can only be a good thing, as marriage and the family have had enormous problems in the past that continue to this day.

My statements about radically altering an “archaic institution” was more a statement of fact than of hope. The institution of marriage has already been radically altered over the course of the past 100 years or so, long before gays asked for marriage. The 20th century saw women liberated within marriage and given equality. The rights of children came to the forefront. Racist bans on marriage between whites and African Americans were struck down. And divorce, something taboo and often difficult to obtain just a generation ago, became easier and commonplace, as people––often women who were emotionally or physically abused––sought to end unhappy marriages.

So gays asking to marry now is only the latest chapter in the long-term change in the institution of marriage that has made it less oppressive and more responsive to people’s needs. Again, that could only be a good thing.

Distorting my statements to back up claims that gays are trying to “destroy” the institution of marriage is just more spin. And, at this point, if that’s all they’ve got––lies and fear-mongering––I think it’s a sign that we’ll win in the end.

Email Mike Signorile at Mike@Signorile.com.

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