Marriage Equality: What’s ‘Ick’ Got To Do with It?
“Ewww. Icky. Like, what you want just grosses me out!”
You might expect that kind of reaction from a 15-year-old high-school student in response to her boyfriend-of-the-week’s plea for “benefits.” But a similar sentiment has been sounded by Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee, former and undoubtedly future candidate for the presidency, in an attempt to explain his opposition to marital rights for adult gay couples. In an interview with The New Yorker this summer, Huck said, “We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.”
Now there’s a shocker. Thanks for the revelation. So, not all human beings are plumbed the same or wired to behave exactly alike. Why, we might even be as diverse as, say, penguins. Heck, Huck, like heterosexuals, not all gay couples perform the same way in bed, so there are lots of intriguing options for you to gag on. And, just to be clear, some of us gay folks are likely to retch if forced to ponder what you might be up to behind the door of your private boudoir. I suspect a lot of straight people would share that gag reflex, too.
Shouldn’t your point be that a person’s bedroom behavior has nothing to do with his or her civil rights? You’re a conservative, Huck, and you should be among the first to respect individual rights in public policymaking. But guys like you seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about matters you say sicken you to think about.
In attempting to defend your comment, you have since told the media that your use of the “ick” phrase comes from an “established notion” within the LGBT community. And you recited research to prove it—notably an article in the gay online magazine Chicago EDGE. Gee, Huck, I’m surprised to learn that you’re such a student of gay culture—but it appears you have read only the title and skipped the body of the piece, “The Ick Factor: How Gay Sex Plays in the Equality Debate.”
Contrary to your assertion that you were merely quoting a common phrase “used mostly [by] same-sex marriage advocates and militants,” the article’s author, Joseph Erbentraut, reports on his blog that the “ick” word was rarely used until you spoke it. “In my piece, the ‘ick factor’ became a sort of catch-all phrase under which I spoke with some community leaders and academics…on their perspectives on the concept. …It is not a commonly uttered phrase among gays and lesbians.”
In fact, as Erbentraut points out, a quick perusal of Google search results shows that the “ick factor” is more typically used to describe “ice-dancing siblings, colon cancer home-screening and bad ’60s pop songs. No other articles from LGBT media, previous to your PR flap, mention the phrase.”
Clearly, different things create an “ick” response in different people. I sometimes want to heave when I see two heterosexuals making out in public. And I become nauseous whenever I see Glenn Beck approach a blackboard.
Nonetheless, your remark, Huck, points to a continuing problem for the campaign to achieve full equality for LGBT citizens. Many Americans tend to vote with their stomachs rather than their brains—and that’s in large measure because of pandering politicians like you.
As Erbentraut explains in his article, “Most of the organizing strategies being trumpeted by [gay] activists have zeroed in on specific pieces of legislation as rainbow-hued lamp posts leading toward equality while dismissing the actual content of often hate-filled rhetoric used by the movement’s adversaries to block LGBT people from any number of political victories. We laugh as New Hampshire lawmaker Nancy Elliott explicitly describes the horrors of anal sex between two men in a public hearing on same-sex marriage, but fail to address the question of why a topic which holds no bearing on the legal discussion at hand would be offered by an elected public official in the first place.”
Erbentraut says that many gay leaders didn’t even want to talk with him about the subject, fearing it would simply dredge up more—well—ickiness. For his article, he did interview Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago and author of the book From Disgust to Humanity:
Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law. Huckabee also cited Nussbaum as a reference in his icky “research,” but typically he got her message wrong.
“All societies known to us have subordinated some group or groups of people by ascribing disgusting properties to them,” Nussbaum told Erbentraut. “This is a key feature of misogyny, of anti-Semitism, of historical Indian caste prejudice, of American racism and so forth.”
In terms of the anti-gay movement, she said, social conservatives purposely strive to make voters squeamish about male-male sexuality, ignoring the truth that many straight couples also engage in what can be described as kinky sexual practices. It’s less a matter of what is being done than who is doing it with whom.
Should marriage licenses be banned based on anyone’s consenting sexual behavior, and who shall be in charge of policing for acceptable practices? Perhaps Mike Huckabee would like the job of federal sex czar.
As an exercise, why don’t we all type up a list of what makes us go, “Ick!!!” In addition to public displays of hetero-affection, mine would include Hooters girls’ uniforms, hefty folks strutting through Wal-Mart in Daisy Dukes, heavily tattooed guys, and political opponents of gay adoption. (Oops, that includes you again, Huck.) Once your list is ready, email it to mikehuckabee.com, along with a note urging him to seek legislation outlawing marital rights for persons of such gut-wrenching depravity.
It may be that, by throwing up the “ick factor,” the old Huckster is actually doing the gay community a favor. He may finally force LGBT leaders to address head-on a matter that has long stymied our progress. Should the bedroom have any place in politics and public policy? And what, if anything, does “ick” have to do with love and a couple’s lifetime commitment to one another?