Review of Ludger H. Viefhues-Bailey, between a Man and a Woman? Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage

Article excerpt

Review of Ludger H. Viefhues-Bailey, Between a Man and a Woman? Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010) vii + 176 pp.

In Between a Man and Woman? Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, religion scholar--Ludger H. Viefhues-Bailey--argues that intellectuals have not yet cultivated a sufficiently nuanced understanding of American conservative Christian resistance to state-sanctioned gay marriage. Too often, for Viefhues-Bailey, conservative Christians are assumed to reject same-sex marriages because of their presumed adherence to a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Such a myopic view of conservative Christians' understandings of sexuality, religiosity, and power relations obfuscates the contested, negotiated, and lived experiences of the people under discussion, thereby providing little insight into how conservative Christians produce and reproduce gender and sexuality norms that are resonant for many Americans. In highly-accessible writing, Viefhues-Bailey sets out to analyze the rhetoric of conservative Christian opposition to same-sex marriage, thus contributing to the growing body of literature that examines how the discourse of American Christian heteronormativity is naturalized through Protestant notions of gender, marriage, respectability, and civilized family units, which conservative Christians regard as essential to the well-being and success of the American nation state.

In an attempt to explore conservative Christian messages about gender, sexuality, and marriage, Viefhues-Bailey analyzes ample material produced by the Christian organization Focus on the Family, which, according to the author, appeals to conservative Protestants of varying denominations and locales through the proliferation of the group's magazines, websites, books, and other media. Rather than critiquing Focus' argumentation, Viefhues-Bailey delves into Focus' texts to investigate the creation, maintenance, and use of rhetorical figures in conservative Christian America. For example, he proffers that the authors of Focus materials construct and perpetuate two static images of gay men, which he terms the "over-sexed hyper-male" and the "gender-insecure hypo-male." The first is portrayed as predatory, particularly toward young boys; the second is imagined as lacking a father figure and unfamiliar with proper masculine behavior. Both are figured as promiscuous and prone to drug use. Viefhues-Bailey argues that these rhetorical figures serve to create normative Christian male gender and sexuality performances, whereby the Christian American man is constructed as one who does not embody any of the qualities associated with the "over-sexed hyper-male" or the "gender-in-secure hypo-male." Consumers of Focus publications are inculcated with prescriptive and proscriptive gender and sexual performances that serve both in the formation of their own embodied gender and sexual practices, as well as in the shaping of their views on the possibilities of same-sex relationships. Viefhues-Bailey asserts that the very creation and repetition of rhetorical figures speaks to the instability and tenuousness of conservative Christian heteronormative gender and sexual scripts, thus requiring the norms to be constantly (re)inscribed and (re)inforced.

The configured image of the deviant gay male is the latest iteration of rhetorical figures that are constructed for the purpose of establishing an alterity against which American Christians can judge themselves. He writes, "Part of the production of white masculinity, for example, is the imagination and cultural depiction of black male sexuality as out of bounds, violent and savage . …

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