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Dec 19 2013

No, gay marriage won’t fucking well stop HIV

Not many know gay marriage is a legacy of AIDS. Attempts by same-sex couples at the turn of the nineties to have partnerships legally recognised – in Denmark, New York, Hawaii – were prompted, in the words of the New York Times, by an epidemic that ‘brought questions of inheritance and death benefits to many people’s minds’. The argument gained ground, in fact, that pushing institutions of monogamy would stem the flow of HIV. ‘[I]n the wake of AIDS’, Andrew Sullivan wrote in the New Republic, it would ‘qualify as a genuine public health measure. Those conservatives who deplore promiscuity among some homosexuals should be among the first to support it.’

On calling gay marriage reactionary and citing this in evidence, I’ve been accused of gravedigging – unearthing arguments now twenty-five years old and foisting them anachronistically on current debates, regardless of historical context. But Sullivan’s logic never went away: it’s led to his acknowledgement in U.S. media as the contemporary gay agenda’s author, and is visible today all over moves for marriage reform.

‘LGBT history will be made’, the Advocate reported only yesterday, ‘on January 1, 2014, when a same-sex wedding takes place atop the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s float during the 125th Rose Parade[.]

‘The wedding between Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair, both gay men from Los Angeles, will be a first for the Rose Parade. The couple’s display of their love and commitment to one another invokes the parade’s 2014 theme, “Dreams Come True,” as well as the theme of the AHF’s float entry, “Love is the Best Protection,” which aims to celebrate same-sex marriage and the role it can play in helping to reduce new HIV infections among gay men. The Foundation’s float will be designed to resemble a wedding cake, with each couple tying the knot atop the float as living cake-toppers.’

Setting aside this terrifying image, suggesting as it does some hideous gay version of the Hunger Games – ‘the best protection’? Really?

‘Love’ doesn’t equal the promise of monogamy; to say so is in the first place a fool’s errand, and an unkind one at that. But neither protects against transmission anyway. How have Catholic doctrines of sex within marriage worked out in countries with HIV-AIDS epidemics? How did chastity work out for those infected by a loved and trusted partner? How did vilifying ‘promiscuity among some homosexuals’, painting AIDS as the fruit of sexual immorality, work out for Catholic Sullivan himself, found posting Craigslist ads in 2001 for unprotected anal sex with ‘other HIV-positive men’? If he couldn’t practise what he preached, why take for granted lesser mortals will?

That spouses play around, with or without permission, isn’t news. Expecting they won’t amounts to abstinence-based disease prevention, which the AHF need only turn on the news to see in action. If not out of deeply conservative sexual ethics, why expect us all to swear monogamy anyway, when prophylactics infinitely more effective exist? Public health is guarded best by public measures, not the pretence of private virtue – in this case, access to condoms, sex education and healthcare and funds for medical research. And are those who do want to make vows prevented by not having them state-recognised? Does monogamy’s achievability depend somehow on access to a civil register?

In a Telegraph column this May that replicated almost exactly Sullivan’s original case, claiming ‘marriage acts as a “commitment device”, encouraging fidelity and discouraging high-risk behaviour’, David Skelton tacked on perhaps the most bizarre argument yet: that ‘[b]y making clear that gay people are fully equal members of society, equal marriage could also help to reduce the level of alienation felt by some young gay people’ – thus, presumably, quash their pursuit of risky activities as a contrived form of self-harm.

Neil Giuliano of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation claimed much the same in the Huffington Post a month later, writing ‘When we promote and permit intolerance through bans on same-sex marriage, we enable and encourage feelings of marginalization, depression and isolation among gay people – particularly LGBT youth. As a result, things like substance use, alcohol consumption, and sexual risk taking increase. And we cannot ignore the data: these activities lead to more cases of HIV.

‘On the flip side, when we promote tolerance through marriage equality, we bring people in from the margins, we help them to feel more affirmed and connected, and risk taking decreases. When this happens, HIV infection rates also decrease.’

What data does Giuliano cite so ostentatiously? A study from 2009 at Emory University suggesting, in his words and its authors’, that constitutional bans on gay marriage in U.S. states ‘raise the infection rate by four cases per 100,000 people’. Without, admittedly, having viewed the paper in detail, the nationwide infection rate according to Wikipedia is 0.6 percent, meaning the rise in question would push numbers from 600 per 100,000 to – wait for it – 604.

A fringe subculture of deliberate infection does exist, but the impression’s hard to avoid that Skelton and Giuliano are reaching opportunistically for any way to praise gay marriage, no matter how baseless or co-optative. According to government figures from 2010, UK diagnoses more than doubled between 1995 and 2009. This period saw Britain’s age of consent equalised, Section 28 scrapped and civil partnerships introduced, greater media visibility for LGBT people and falls in the prevalence of homophobic attitudes, all uncontroversially steps toward ‘bring[ing] people in from the margins’. If none of them stifled HIV transmission, why would marriage reform today? Persuading oneself it’ll solve a slew of other problems is a nice way of making the workload appear smaller while taking no material action.

We’ve no cause assume a vague, immeasurable sea change in the LGBT psyche will emerge mysteriously from the legal right to wed and magic HIV away. We’ve good cause to assume it won’t. Things that may actually help aren’t just condoms and clean needles, sex ed, med research and so on, vital as those are; they’re housing, healthcare and community support for those who fall into sex work, self-harm, drug use or homelessness, services Britain’s government cuts to the bone while commending itself for legalising gay.

A gay rights lobby that applauds it and others like it is one thing – but claiming cynically while doing so that marriage holds the key to HIV prevention is a fiction adding insult to infection.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    Mutual monogamy IS the best form of protection against STDs: you cannot get something from someone who does not have it to give. But one does not need legal marriage to be mutually monogamous, and mutual monogamy does not automatically follow from legal civil marriage.

    Marriage equality does offer a lot of important benefits, including iron-clad inheritance rights, support in the event one partner is disabled or dies, implied mutual ownership of assets, and others. But you are correct in your main thesis, that marriage and STD protection do not go hand in hand.

  2. 2
    John Horstman

    Blech. Every time I read something of Sullivan, I loathe his right-wing ass more and more. I’m still not clear how his neoliberal, homonormative screds have endeared him to the Left here in USA. (Okay, that’s a lie – it’s because a substantial portion of our nominal Left is really center-Right.)

  3. 3
    John Horstman

    Blast: “screds” should read “screeds”.

  4. 4
    Irv Spielberg

    Jesus predicted that just before His return as Judge, there will be a strange, dangerous fad – a spontaneous global steamroller notable for its speed, violence, and impudent in-your-face openness. In Luke 17 He called this worldwide craze the repeat of the “days of Lot” (see Genesis 19). By fulfilling this worldwide mania that’s secretly coordinated by unseen spirit beings, gays are really hurrying up Christ’s return and making the Bible even more believable!
    They’ve actually invented strange architecture: closets opening not on to bedrooms but on to Main Streets where kids can see naked men having sex in “Madam” Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco Brothel District. We wonder how soon S.F.’s underground saint – San Andreas – will get a 10-point jolt out of what goes on over his head (see the dire prediction about cities in Revelation 16:19, and Google “Obama Supports Public Depravity”).
    What’s really scary is the “reprobate mind” phrase in Romans 1:28. A person can sear his conscience so much that God finally turns him over to S, the universal evil leader whose unseen agents can give a “possessed” person super-human strength that many cops with tasers have trouble subduing!
    Remember, gays don’t have to stay bound to their slavery. Their emancipation is found in a 5-letter name starting with J (no, not James or Julia). As soon as they can find out the all-powerful J name, gays will really start living! (Google “God to Same-Sexers: Hurry Up,” “USA – from Puritans to Impure-itans,” and “The Background Obama Can’t Cover Up.”)
    Was Jesus silent about gays? Google ” ‘Jesus Never Mentioned Homosexuality.’ When gays have birthdays….”

    [Hi, Mate. Saw the foregoing on the never boring web. Any reaction?]

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