The phrase “traditional family values” is the sheep’s clothing of the religious right, their thinly veiled attempt to disguise their aim to remake America into a fundamentalist theocracy in which their religious beliefs and preferences are encoded into law.
Which raises a few questions.
The religious right, if their public statements are to be believed, hold two documents to be sacrosanct – The Bible and the US Constitution. The problem being that the former offers contradicting views on the form of this longed-for traditional family and the later doesn’t concern itself with family at all.
Consider family as shown in the Bible. Polygamy and concubines are modeled in the bible far more frequently than anything like the one man, one woman nuclear family that the right champions, and other options, like rape and sexual slavery as one of the benefits of military conquest, get some play. In fact, the only real “nuclear” family that gets much screen time in the book is the supposed Holy Family, and in that one the mother is a virgin impregnated by god and the father is god’s cuckold, stuck providing hearth and home for the holy progeny, but without any of the conjugal benefits. I’m pretty sure that, had the republic followed that model, we would have died out long ago, as god does not seem to have a need to get his holy freak on very often these days.
Now consider family as addressed in the US Constitution. Don’t sweat, you’re already done. The word “family” does not appear. Nor does “husband” or “wife” or “divorce” or “marriage.” In order to claim that the seminal document of the founding fathers offers any sustenance to their obsession with traditional family values, the religious right would have to jump through a pretty long series of interpretive hoops. But this is the strict constructionist crowd, remember? The enemies of the activist liberal judiciary. These are the folks who constantly claim that, if the constitution does not address an issue directly and in plain language, then it doesn’t address the issue. From plain language, or, actually, the lack thereof, it’s plainly apparent that the founding fathers weren’t interested in the government meddling in the business of family. Seems like they must have viewed that as a matter of choice for each citizen to address on his or her own – as an issue of liberty.
The succor the right take in the fact that the constitution does nothing to support their family values claims is their states’ rights assertion that, since the constitution doesn’t address such issues the states are free to make any laws they want on the matter. So, over the course of US history, you’ve had any number of state laws climbing into bed with you. Sodomy laws, which, by the way, outlaw not just gay sex, but oral sex, anal sex, manual sex – essentially any form of non-procreative sex; laws prohibiting birth control; laws prohibiting divorce; laws prohibiting adultery. Of course, most of those have been struck down over the years, or have simply faded into meaningless non-enforcement, because the constitution did put processes in place to ensure that, while states may make laws in a wide variety of areas, they may not make laws that violate the concept of equal protection – the idea that all citizens in every state have the same basic sets of rights. And nowhere in the constitution are sexual proclivities identified as legal grounds for violating those rights (nope, the word “sex” doesn’t appear, either).
Which left the religious right in a bit of a pickle, because, while protestants may think Catholics are the Whore of Babylon and the servants of Satan, and while Catholics may think protestants are misguided refugees cut off from the One True Church, one thing all Christian sects have in common (in fact which almost every religion has in common) is an inveterate desire for sexual repression. Sex is perhaps the most powerful single biological impulse we humans have (or any creature has – it’s how nature ensures that a species continues). And, since religions, when you get down to brass tacks, are human institutions designed to gather and control their flocks, they have, in every instance, focused on establishing a set of sexual prohibitions to serve that end. (Which prohibitions, by the way, have pretty uniformly allowed for and excused the systematic repression of women, but that’s fodder for another post.) By establishing rules around sexual mores that humans are bound to violate, given our strong natural sexual impulse, religions ensure that their adherents are in a state of constant violation, constant guilt, constant need for the succor and intervention of their church.
Somewhere some Christian is reading this and snickering, “Oh yeah? Well what if we’re RIGHT? Aren’t you in for a big surprise come judgment day.” What it you are – what if whichever sect you belong to happens to be the one real channel for god’s truth on the vast and varied menu of religious choices? That would mean that every other sect has it wrong. So, best case scenario, one sect somewhere is justified in promulgating their repressive sexual mores. That still means almost everyone else has is being sexually (and otherwise) repressed by their religious masters to serve human, not divine, ends.
By the way, if you think your particular brand of Jesus Juice is the one that’s 100 percent pure, let me know which sect you’re in and, in a day or less, I’ll poke a few logical holes in your holier-than-thou canoe. None of you have it right.
But so what? Why should we care what any religion anywhere has to say? Aren’t we free to follow or not follow their teachings as we choose? We’re supposed to be, but the religious right is only interested in their religion being free from you, they aren’t at all interesed in you being free from it. Those various oppressive sexual state laws that have been struck down or fallen into disuse? At least on current GOP candidate for president, Rick Santorum, has repeatedly said that such laws should stand. That he has no problem with state laws that prohibit sexual behaviors or birth control – that, in fact, he’d like to see them back on the books.
But that’s just one guy, and a guy who isn’t going to get elected. So we’re in the clear, right?
Just today, Utah’s legislature has sent to the governor a bill that would require that sex education classes be abstinence only – that classroom instructors in public schools be prohibited from providing any information on birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual orientation or any other topic beside preaching that the only way to have sex is to wait until you are married. In other words, a bill mandating sexual education classes that don’t cover, well, sex.
Part of the problem in having any intellectually honest discussion with the religious right is the fact that words come unstuck from their meanings. They continually redefine words, the common currency of thought, so that the words themselves conform to their religious preference. It’s a kind of thought control more insidious than anything Orwell ever envisioned.
Take the word education, which is defined as the act or process of imparting or acquiring knowledge. I don’t think even the most sexually repressed legislator in Utah would deny that birth control exists or would dispute the clinical and practical evidence of its efficacy in preventing pregnancies. Nor could he or she (but I’m betting he, aren’t you?) dispute that STDs exist, that some of them can kill you, and that certain methods of birth control also protect against their transmission. They clearly believe there are homosexuals, otherwise they wouldn’t waste so much effort attempting to suppress their rights. And I don’t think even our repressed friend could conjure up a misuse that would classify the body of topics enumerated in this paragraph as anything other than sexual.
Yet still they pass a law classifying a system of instruction in which the majority of the information available on the topic is legally repressed, and they then have the temerity to refer to the resulting curriculum, which amounts to nothing more than a religious-right sermon on their traditional family values, as “education,” all in complete contradiction to the accepted definition of that word.
What’s the harm? This.
It is not just the finding of one study, but the consensus of the preponderance of research on American sexual practices, that 95 percent of Americans engage in premarital sex. The average age of first sexual intercourse is almost identical for men and women – 17 for men, 17.3 for women. Even if we assume that, once married, everyone is going to remain faithfully married to the same partner for life, which we know isn’t true (right, Newt?), when you consider that the average age of first marriage is now 28 for men and 26 for women, that leaves a 9- to 11-year average period of sexual activity during which babies can be conceived outside of the treasured “traditional” family model, in which diseases can be contracted and transmitted, in which bad things can happen.
But it is evidently more important to the Utah legislature that they subvert a publically funded school program into a censored parrot for their personal religious beliefs than it is that they provide an education that will help their children successfully navigate the real world.
It’s not surprising that this is happening in Utah, given Mormonism’s almost monopolistic hold on its legislature. What is a little surprising is that Mormons have moved to the forefront of sexual repression. Here you’ve got a religion less than 200 years old, created from scratch by Joseph Smith, a convicted fraudster, who claimed the angel Moroni (and I have to think he was thumbing his nose at his adherents with the name) revealed god’s truth to him on a set of golden tablets. (Where are those tablets, anyway?) Almost immediately, one of the convict Smith’s revelations was that he could marry as many wives as he wanted. So Smith, Brigham Young and at least the male adherents of Mormonism got to ride the nookie train to heaven. Nice revelation if you can get it, unless, of course, you were, say, Clarissa Decker, Brigham Young’s sixth wife (out of 55), the one he married when he was 44 and she was all of 16. Maybe not so great if you’re her and you’re sexual education is in the bed of a guy probably older than your father, but that’s traditional family values for you. Fundamentalist Mormons out in the hinterlands are still riding that polygamy pony for all it’s worth. Of course, the mainstream Mormon church had to drop the polygamy thing to have any hope of getting Utah admitted to the union, so now they hew to as stringent a line of sexual repression as you’re gonna find anywhere.
Cognitive dissonance, anyone?