Introduction to Second Edition:
As documented in the first edition, the presidency of George W. Bush was a continual series of assaults and new restrictions on sexual rights. During this period America struggled through:
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 was supposed to change many things, including government intrusion into private life. In the area of sexual rights, unfortunately, the positive effects have been extremely limited. More than halfway through Obama’s first (and perhaps only) term, we can see several clear socio-political trends, including:
Lacking a clear vision or mandate from Washington, and with the president’s bully pulpit disused and in tatters, individual states have aggressively led the way in increasing restrictions on sexual rights and sexual expression. Examples include restrictions on access to abortion, pointless expansion of sex offender registries with increasingly punitive conditions, restrictions on the availability of adult entertainment, protections for licensed medical personnel who reject their professional responsibilities, and heightened entrapment programs (often motivated by federal grants) to pursue adults in adult chatrooms engaged in fantasy age-play.
In addition, many sex-negative narratives or beliefs (all demonstrably false) have become more popular in American society during the Obama administration. These include:
Such discourses continue to complicate progressive efforts to base public policy on fact and science rather than on emotion and opinion. As the media, Religious Right, and conservative politicians continue to trivialize science as one perspective out of many—that is, just an opinion—it is increasingly difficult to find legitimate venues with which to counter baseless anti-sex rhetoric with fact. The life-saving, virtually risk-free vaccine Gardasil is an example.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, and contemporary state and local politics, is the continued exceptionalism regarding religious belief in political life. Even more than under President Bush, religious sensitivities have a special seat at virtually all public policy tables, from reproductive rights to tax codes to employment policies.
Obama has actually expanded the destructive Office of Faith-Based Funding begun by his predecessor. He started by naming Pentacostal pastor Joshua DuBois to lead the White House faith office (DuBois still holds this position). Obama then poured billions of dollars in federal money into social service programs that, because they are “faith-based,” are exempt from the normal federal requirements of non-discrimination in hiring, firing, proselytizing, and so on. When campaigning in 2008, Obama promised he wouldn’t tolerate such discrimination, but he has and he continues to do so.
Today’s federal Department of Health and Human Services has reaffirmed that even health workers who are licensed to provide medical care are not required to perform their duties if their “conscience” instructs them not to. This is in clear contrast to anyone who declines to do their job if they believe Napolean or Cleopatra instructs them not to. Favoring religious “instructions” over non-religious “instructions” is a clear violation of America’s invaluable separation of Church and state.
Virtually all instances of these religious fits of “conscience” involve sexuality—often reproductive services such as filling prescriptions for contraception, providing D&Cs, performing abortions, and so on. The door is wide open for taxi drivers, janitors, office workers, and virtually any employee to claim a religious exemption from doing work that supports sexual expression with which a worker disagrees.
America’s tax codes are quite clear in requiring that, in exchange for massive tax exemptions, religious institutions are barred from directly participating in election campaigns. Unfortunately, there are dramatic, ongoing violations of this regulation under the Obama administration. Thus, churches are now firmly part of the infrastructure that helps elect candidates who oppose reproductive choice and contraceptive access. Having been thus emboldened, the Alliance Defense Fund is actively campaigning to end this restriction on tax-supported Churches. For more on this, see Chapter 13.
So why have sexual rights become increasingly tenuous during this nominally Democratic presidency?
Part of the reason is the lack of a coherent vision of either sexual rights or sexual health coming from the president. One is tempted to excuse this by noting the profound systemic challenges this president faces—global economic collapse, enormous unemployment, a Republican Party focused solely on destroying his ability to govern.
However, the criminalization and sanction of ordinary sexual behavior causes great suffering for millions of Americans. To a parent who loses custody of her child because she’s into sadomasochism (S/M), or a teen put on a life-long sex offender registry for texting nude photos of himself, the War on Sex is no abstraction that can be sacrificed to other issues. For people whose lives are damaged or ruined because of it, the War on Sex is real and current and profound.
Another reason the War on Sex has gotten worse is that the Religious Right has become stronger, smarter, richer, and more aggressive with regard to sexuality. Having almost completed its planned criminalization of abortion, it is now going after contraception and other medical interventions. They have successfully marginalized the wonder drug Gardasil, which could have protected an entire generation from human papillomavirus (HPV)—on the grounds that it “might” lead to “promiscuity.” Indeed, it became an issue in the recent Republican presidential nomination process, as Michelle Bachmann and others went after Rick Perry, who as Texas governor required the inoculation of schoolgirls several years ago.
Finally, the Religious Right has created coalitions on zoning boards, city councils, and state legislatures that have reduced or even eliminated adult entertainment in large parts of the country. They have persuaded many major hotel chains to stop offering adult movies in guest rooms. Regional bigots like Phil Burress have been rewarded and are now national bigots.
A Bright Spot
In all, the outlook for sexual rights in America is dim, particularly with the leadership of the Republican Party jostling each other to prove that they are the most conservative, most religious, most anti-sexual, and least respectful of individual rights. This is a movement that demands small government—except when it comes to limiting Americans’ sexual rights.
The only bright spot ahead in this regard is the dramatic advance in civil rights for America’s lesbians and gay men. For more on that, see the Epilog. For an update on everything else, turn the page.
© 2012 Marty Klein, Ph.D. - All Rights Reserved