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I think I met Bruce Bawer once at a poetry festival or a magazine party, but maybe not, and regardless I can’t say I know him. Still, perhaps we could use him as an example here—for I recall being taken aback when I came across an interview in which he declared me fundamentally unchristian, some years after of his 1996 anthology, . Insofar as I remember the book, I still think Beyond Queer was not great work. For that matter, even though Bawer is an admirable poet and interesting author of nonfiction, he has surely received other unflattering reviews. But what I hadn’t considered is the way disagreement over this particular topic feels intensely personal: perceived not as rejection of a public position but rejection of how one understands the self.

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But perhaps Francis does offer us an opportunity to think about marriage in terms of the politically unclassifiable that constitutes much of Catholic teaching. The stony ground on which the church must sow is the landscape created by the sexual revolution. Made possible by the pill, accelerated by legalized abortion, aided by easy pornography, that revolution actually needs none of these any longer to survive, because they never defined it. They merely allowed it, and the completed change is now omnipresent. The revolution is not just in the way we use our bodies. It’s in the way we use our minds.


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In a post on his blog, , Sullivan recalls a moment debating gay marriage on TV shortly after his essay came out. "It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer's response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. 'This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,' he joked. 'Why are we even discussing it?'"


Kathryn Higgins and JoIda Reed. Photo by Sarah van Gelder.

We could probably work up an indictment of the media, identity politics, and the grievance industry for this perception (as Bawer himself has in other contexts): turning even slight deviations from the accepted position into occasions for full-blown accusations of bigotry. But why bother? Hot or cold, the water in which we find ourselves is the water in which we have to swim. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between same-sex orientation and same-sex activity that might have once seemed intelligible, even commonsensical. But the distinction has absolutely no purchase today. And what good does it do to complain—as does, for example, , the sharpest of the younger activists now working against same-sex marriage—that the distinction somehow ought to have purchase?

Kathryn Higgins and JoIda Reed. Photo by Sarah van Gelder.

Some of the perceived offense may have come from inattention. In 2011, the Washington Times asked me for a little piece celebrating the anniversary of the classic 1981 BBC mini-series version of Brideshead Revisited. And after its publication, David Boaz, the gay-marriage supporter from the libertarian Cato Institute, dropped me a note taking me to task for using the word “homosexuals” instead of “gays” in my opening description of the series’ reception. He understood that I was trying to recapture the tone of those early 1980s days, when homosexuals was still more or less the polite term of reference. But we are long past all that, he insisted, and I should realize that the word, taken as a generic noun, had picked up enough negative connotations that writers ought not to employ it even in a historical way.

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Andrew Sullivan wrote a cover story for The New Republic . It was at the time a radical proposition — although Sullivan's argument came from a philosophically conservative place.