Bill Buckley and The Gays
Andrew Sullivan appreciated the late William F. Buckley, Jr.’s civil tone on matters of homosexuality, especially as contrasted with other conservatives of his era, but laments that “Buckley never challenged what he believed was a necessary moral and social injunction against gay love, marriage and sex.”
GayPatriot‘s B. Daniel Blatt is more charitable, noting that, “When I was friendly with Marvin Liebman in the mid-1990s, he remembered his friend fondly, noting how their friendship did not change when Liebman came out as gay to Buckley.” But, as Sully observes, “Liebman was indeed a brother in combat, one of the great gay foes of totalitarianism, up there with Whittaker Chambers and Alan Turing. But he was always reminded that his gayness would bar him from full inclusion as an equal in the conservative movement.”
Buckley was, after all, a devout Roman Catholic of a certain age. That brings with it a deontological view of ethics and a fixed view of sin. He could love the sinner but hate the sin. Sullivan quotes his infamous exchange with Gore Vidal, in which he retorted to being called a “cypto-Nazi” by calling his antagonist a “goddamned queer.” Less well known is what happened later:
Buckley apologized to Vidal, but wrote that “the man who in his essays proclaims the normalcy of his affliction [i.e., homosexuality], and in his art the desirability of it, is not to be confused with the man who bears his sorrow quietly. The addict is to be pitied and even respected, not the pusher.”
That’s pretty standard Christian theology.
It should be noted, too, that the exchange took place in 1968, an era when liberal peaceniks like Arlo Guthrie threw around the word “faggot” without the slightest hint of venom or embarrassment; times change.
Buckley’s deontological ethics on the subject of gay issues sometimes manifested itself in rather amusing ways. Several of the remembrances I’ve seen since his passing yesterday have mentioned his suggestion that, “Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to prevent common needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of homosexuals.”
I’d add an exchange I recall from one of his “Firing Line” debates from a quarter century or more ago in which he argued that, for religiously devout parents to urge their children to be abstinent but that, if they couldn’t, they should use condoms to avoid getting AIDS was the equivalent of telling them that stealing was a sin but that, if they decided to commit burglaries, they should by all means wear gloves. Intellectually, it was a brilliant point. And from the perspective of a religious true believer, he was likely right. From any other, though, the moral equivalence of consensual sex and burglary is ridiculous.