Buckley And The Gays

He was much too civilized to have been personally hostile or rude. He published Marvin Liebman and David Brudnoy - and in his day, National Review was not as uniformly homophobic - or virtually Homorein - as it now is. But Buckley never challenged what he believed was a necessary moral and social injunction against gay love, marriage and sex. (In a heated debate with Gore Vidal, he responded to the vile accusation of being a Nazi by accusing Vidal of being a "goddamned queer." At least being a NAzi is a choice.) Gay men were allowed sex, as a function of a civilized society's benevolence, but only allowed. We were never to be regarded as equals, and our rights were always contingent on others' toleration. Homosexual sodomy was always subjected to more scrutiny and disparagement than heterosexual sodomy, even when sodomy became - as it did in the 1960s with the advent of the pill - the overwhelming sexual practice of the straight. And so gay sex lives were subject to the kind of thought experiment - tattooing our buttocks in the HIV epidemic - that simply would never have been applied to heterosexuals. He echoed Charles Kaiser's belief that gay sexual freedom and privacy could not apply to the HIV-positive, who were to be regarded as threats and enemies. And after Marvin Liebman came out, he was frozen out as well. Buckley's response to one of his oldest friend's coming to terms with his own nature was as follows:

"I honor your decision to raise publicly the points you raise ... but you too must realize what are the implications of what you ask. Namely, that the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which is aligned with, no less, one way of life, become indifferent to another way of life ...

National Review will not be scarred by thoughtless gay bashing, let alone be animated by such practices ... You are absolutely correct in saying that gays should be welcome as partners in efforts to mint sound public policies; not correct, in my judgement, in concluding that such a partnership presupposes the repeal of convictions that are more, much more, than mere accretions of bigotry. You remain, always, my dear friend, and my brother in combat."

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. I wish that times had changed. But the stance remains - absent Buckley's grace and manners, and compounded now by the dark strains of fundamentalist bile.