Richard Nixon on the Same-Sex Marriage Cases before the Supreme Court

by Will on April 1, 2013

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The late president discusses the cases with his adviser, John Ehrlichman (Warning: this is off-the-record Nixon, so it is as profane and abusive as Nixon was in private):

Nixon: But I do not mind homosexuality. I understand it. [Fourteen seconds mysteriously deleted] But nevertheless, the point that I make is, God damn it, I do not think you glorify on public television homosexuality. The reason you don’t glorify it John is the same as you don’t glorify whores. Now we all know that people go to whores, and we all know that people are just do that, we all have weaknesses and so forth and so on, but God damn it, what do you think that does to kids?

Ehrlichman: Yeah.

Nixon: What do you think that does to 11 and 12 year old boys when they see that? Why is it that the Scouts, that the Boys Clubs, we were there, we constantly had to clean up the staffs to keep the God damned fags out of it. Because, not because of them, they can go out and do anything they damn please, [unintelligible] all those kids? You know there’s a little tendency among them all. Well I can tell you by God it outraged me. Not for any moral reason. Most people are outraged for moral reasons, why, it outrages me because I don’t want to see this country go that way.

Ehrlichman: You know there are…

Nixon: You ever see what happened, you know what happened, to the Greeks? Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that, so was Socrates.

Ehrlichman: But he never had the influence that television has.

Nixon: Do you know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags. The last six. Nero had a public wedding to a boy. And they’d [unintelligible]. You know what happened to the Popes? It’s all right that Popes were laying nuns, that’s been going on for years, centuries, but when the Popes from the Catholic church went to hell, three or four centuries ago, it was homosexual. And finally it had to be cleaned out.

Ehrichman: Uh-huh.

Nixon. That’s what happened to Britain, it happened to France earlier. And let’s look at the strong societies. The Russians, God damn it, they root them out, they don’t let them around at all. I don’t know what they do with them.

Crudeness aside, Nixon highlights exactly what it is about same-sex marriage that frightens its opponents so much: the message it sends to young people. I have long thought that it is important to challenge the monopolization of marriage by straight couples, precisely because of the implicit message it sends to young people, some of whom will find that they are gay or someone they know is. Official recognition of gay couples’ relationships encourages tolerance and discourages bullying.

When I was young, it was evident quite early that to be homosexual was a horrible, shameful thing, an awful curse to be lamented even if it were tolerated. It was thought that harassing them, insulting them, and even beating them was, if not right and proper, at least not repugnant. It usually took years for people who were gay to acknowledge the fact publicly. In a world where the state recognizes marriages of homosexuals as equal to marriages of opposite-sex couples, this public shaming becomes much less convincing, and probably less satisfying to the perpetrator. Already, gay teenagers who are taunted with the epithets Nixon uses above can take comfort in the fact that numerous judges, the voters of several states, and the president of the country have sided with them and against the bullies.

And this is why the question is important, and also why halfway houses like “Civil Unions” — which continue to convey that there is something different and hence shameful about gays — are not acceptable.

Because the other theory Nixon voices, the idea that allowance of homosexuality is inextricably linked to social decline, is laughable.

Any good historian, hearing the case, laughs out loud at it, which was also the response of the audience at the hearing on Propositon 8 in California’s supreme court. This was replicated in the supreme court’s hearings on the same measure. When the learned counsel in support of Propostion 8 asserted that marriage was institutionalized in law only to further procreation, he was challenged with the proposition that many persons too old to reproduce are routinely married, under all auspices of the law, the counsel then answered that in such cases, “at least one” party to the marriage still held the power of reproduction, and he supposed this to settle the question. The questioning justice quite reasonably countered that for a straight couple, the reproductive powers of one party could not be confined to one party, and that if one party of this heterosexual and legitimate marriage were sterile, so too would be the bond. The courtroom–normally a quiet and sober place–erupted in laughter.

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