The quixotic role of former Bush administration solicitor general Ted Olson as one of two key attorneys in the effort to overturn California’s infamous Proposition 8, the Mormon-backed, anti-gay marriage measure, is important to examine.
Olson and co-counsel David Boies, on opposite sides of the 2000 legal battle that resulted in the election of George W. Bush to his first term, concluded their arguments in the Perry Vs. Schwarzenegger lawsuit last week.
Olson’s pedigree as an arch-conservative could not be stronger: On the board of the American Spectator, Bush’s lawyer in the 2000 case, Bush’s solicitor general, and a strong contender to become Bush’s attorney general, blocked by the vociferous objections of Congressional Democrats.
So, what’s he doing taking the point in the fight for gay (as in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT) rights?
It turns out that some right-wingers, comfortable crossing the border to the world of libertarians and their strident opposition to any government interference in anything, can support fights against government laws intruding on individual personal decisions.
Thus we find that, in the battle for LGBT equal rights, an uneasy alliance between right-libertarian elements and progressive Democrats is at its core. The majority among the loudest critics of Obama, those who blast him for moving too slowly on LGBT issues, for example, come from the right-libertarian side.
The two opposite world views, in fact, favor LGBT equality for very different reasons, when the matter gets dissected. For the right, it’s anti-government privacy; for the left, it’s an extension of the civil rights movement.
The division, which few are aware of, is unmistakable. I found it reflected in a rare exchange between two famous homosexual literary giants of the 20th century, in the libertine sentiments of the ‘’Beat Generation’’ William Burroughs contrasted to the socially-conscious sensibilities of Tennessee Williams.
The Williams-Burroughs exchange published in the Village Voice in 1977 (as reprinted in Conversations With Tennessee Williams, Albert J. Devlin, ed.) is an interesting tet-a-tet that finds the two at total odds:
Burroughs: Old Alester Crowley, plagarizing from Hassan i Sabbah, said: “Do what you wilt,’’ is the whole of the Law.
Williams: Regarding drugs, you mean.
Burroughs: Regarding anything…And then Hassan i Sabbah’s last words were: “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.’’ In other words, everything is permitted because nothing is true. If you see everything as illusion, then everything is permitted. The last words of Hassan i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, the Master of the Assassins. And this was given a slightly different twist, but it’s the same statement as Aleister Crowley’s “Do what you want to do is the whole of the law.’’
Williams: Provided you want to do the right thing, yes.
Burroughs: Ah, but if you really want to do it, then it’s the right thing. That’s the point.
Williams: Isn’t that an amoralist point of view?
Williams: I don’t believe you’re an amoralist.
Burroughs: Oh yes.
Williams: You do believe it?
Burroughs: Well, I do what I can…
Williams: I don’t think it’s true.
Burroughs: We were both brought up in the Bible belt; but it’s obvious that what you want to do is, of course, eventually what you will do, anyway. Sooner or later.
Williams: I think we all die, sooner or later. I prefer to postpone the event.
Burroughs: Yes, there is that consideration.
Williams: I’m in no hurry. But one doesn’t choose it. I’ve always been terrified of death.
Williams: I’m not sure. I say that, and yet I’m not sure. How about you?
Burroughs: Well, as I say, I don’t know. Someone asked me about death, and I said, ‘How do you know you’re not dead already?”
So you have two famous proponents of LGBT rights, themselves gay, who reveal deeply contrasting world views. Williams considered himself a socialist, as he wrote in his memoirs, though he was not explicitly political, and much of his work spoke to the plight of women and the poor.
In Burroughs, you have an amoral pig. In Williams, a moral giant.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org