Chapter 4: Not the Marrying Kind

As Andrew Sullivan, junior editor at The New Republic in 1989 saw it, marriage could transform gay people’s lives. Not only would it clear a path for full equality, as Evan Wolfson had argued in his thesis a few years earlier, but it could protect the gay community from the AIDS epidemic by fostering more careful sex. It was a cultural inoculation in the absence of a real vaccine.

But to radical queers, marriage was itself a virus, a tool of the oppressor that, if adopted by homosexuals, would degrade their very identity from the inside out. And to conservatives, gay marriage was an assault on decency. If AIDS was “nature’s retribution for violating the laws of nature,” as Pat Buchanan said in 1992, surely heterosexuals were entitled to exact some retribution as well.

Virus or vaccine, punishment or reward, marriage had become a crossroads of ideologies, a metaphorical battleground with a literal body count.

"At the time, it seemed like it was the fucking end of the world," Sullivan told me, years later, while waiting for his husband to join him at a Provincetown bar. “I mean, I can’t tell you how scary it was. Everybody knew they could die, and there didn't seem to be any cure. Part of that gave me the courage to go out and make that argument. Because I thought it was going to be the last argument I would ever make.”

In Your Arms Kevin MacLeod ( 
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