What they mean when they say Gays threaten Marriage.

May. 12th, 2006

Finally I have read a detailed, comprehensible, in-their-own-words explanation of why the Christian Right is reacting to sexuality the way it is. The following is culled from a nine-page article, which you should definitely read in its entirety. It may still be freely available; otherwise, the registration with the New York Times is free and worthwhile.

Published: May 7, 2006
The New York Times Magazine

Russell Shorto, a contributing writer, has written for the magazine about the anti-gay-marriage movement and religion in the workplace.

The English writer Daniel Defoe is best remembered today for creating the ultimate escapist fantasy, “Robinson Crusoe,” but in 1727 he sent the British public into a scandalous fit with the publication of a nonfiction work called “Conjugal Lewdness: or, Matrimonial Whoredom.” After apparently being asked to tone down the title for a subsequent edition, Defoe came up with a new one — “A Treatise Concerning the Use and Abuse of the Marriage Bed” — that only put a finer point on things. The book wasn’t a tease, however. It was a moralizing lecture. After the wanton years that followed the restoration of the monarchy, a time when both theaters and brothels multiplied, social conservatism rooted itself in the English bosom. Self-appointed Christian morality police roamed the land, bent on restricting not only homosexuality and prostitution but also what went on between husbands and wives.


“We see a direct connection between the practice of contraception and the practice of abortion,” says Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, an organization that has battled abortion for 27 years but that, like others, now has a larger mission. “The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an antichild mind-set,” she told me. “So when a baby is conceived accidentally, the couple already have this negative attitude toward the child. Therefore seeking an abortion is a natural outcome. We oppose all forms of contraception.”


Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002 to the F.D.A.’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee despite (or perhaps because of) his opposition to contraception, sounded not a little like Daniel Defoe in a 1999 essay he wrote: “Sexual union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification.”


Focus on the Family posts a kind of contraceptive warning label on its Web site: “Modern contraceptive inventions have given many an exaggerated sense of safety and prompted more people than ever before to move sexual expression outside the marriage boundary.” Contraception, by this logic, encourages sexual promiscuity, sexual deviance (like homosexuality) and a preoccupation with sex that is unhealthful even within marriage.


At a White House press briefing in May of last year, three months before the F.D.A.’s nonruling on Plan B, Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked four times by a WorldNetDaily correspondent, Les Kinsolving, if the president supported contraception. “I think the president’s views are very clear when it comes to building a culture of life,” McClellan replied. Kinsolving said, “If they were clear, I wouldn’t have asked.” McClellan replied: “And if you want to ask those questions, that’s fine. I’m just not going to dignify them with a response.” This exchange caught the attention of bloggers and others. In July, a group of Democrats in Congress, led by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, sent the first of four letters to the president asking outright: “Mr. President, do you support the right to use contraception?” According to Representative Maloney’s office, the White House has still not responded.


But one member of the F.D.A.’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee had reservations [about the Plan B pill]: Dr. W. David Hager, a Christian conservative whom President Bush appointed to lead the panel in 2002. [..] Dr. Hager said he feared that if Plan B were freely available, it would increase sexual promiscuity among teenagers. F.D.A. staff members presented research showing that these fears were ungrounded: large-scale studies showed no increase in sexual activity when Plan B was available to them, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Adolescent Medicine endorsed the switch to over-the-counter status. Others argued that the concern was outside the agency’s purview: that the F.D.A.’s mandate was specifically limited to safety and did not extend to matters like whether a product might lead to people having more sex. Meanwhile a government report later found that Dr. Janet Woodcock, deputy commissioner for operations at the F.D.A., had also expressed a fear that making the drug available over the counter could lead to “extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an ‘urban legend’ status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” In May 2004, the F.D.A. rejected the finding of its scientific committees and denied the application, citing some of the reasons that Dr. Hager had expressed.


[Kimberly Zenarolla, […] the director of strategic development for the National Pro-Life Action Center, a two-year-old organization with 10,000 members that lobbies on abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and contraception] told me she converted to Catholicism two years ago: “I tell people I became Catholic because of the church’s teaching on contraception. We are opposed to sex before marriage and contraception within marriage. We believe that the sexual act is meant to be a complete giving of self. Of course its purpose is procreation, but the church also affirms the unitive aspect: it brings a couple together. By using contraception, they are not allowing the fullness of their expression of love. To frustrate the procreative potential ends up harming the relationship.”


The Catholic Church sanctions “natural family planning,” otherwise known as the rhythm method, but it holds that artificial means of contraception lead people to see the body as an instrument, reducing human dignity and making them slaves to their desires. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, “Contraception and abortion both have their roots in [a] depersonalized and utilitarian view of sexuality and procreation — which in turn is based on a truncated notion of man and his freedom.”


Further, the church holds that contraception and in vitro fertilization are two sides of the same coin: both are attempts to manipulate sexuality to serve the selfish demands of the individual. “I can sympathize with a couple who can’t conceive and desperately want a child,” Zenarolla says. “But if you examine in vitro fertilization, you begin to see what an objectification of the body it is. Today there are 400,000 leftover frozen embryos. That clump of cells is a human being, with its own DNA. Whenever we take it out of the safe harbor of its mother’s womb, it opens up life to manipulation and control: ‘I want a boy with blue eyes and no diseases.”‘ The objectification of the human, she says, then transfers to the child. “It leads to eugenics,” Zenarolla told me, “to wanting to get rid of people who have defects. It’s part of the devaluation of human beings.”


“I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill,” [R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] continued. “It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”


Last month, Senators Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton — an anti-abortion Democrat and an abortion rights Democrat — introduced legislation that would require insurance companies to cover contraceptives. In part, the idea is to force Republicans to support contraception or be branded as reactionaries. The conservative counter was that giving even more government backing to emergency contraception and other escape hatches from unwanted pregnancy will lead to a new wave of sexual promiscuity. An editorial in the conservative magazine Human Events characterized the effect of such legislation as “enabling more low-income women to have consequence-free sex.”


The idea of promoting abstinence over comprehensive sex education (which includes information on various forms of contraception and how to use them) gets to the core of the expanded conservative approach to birth control issues. It really is all about sex. “There are two philosophies of sexuality,” [Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation] told me. “One regards it as primarily physical and all about physical pleasure. Therefore, the idea is to have lots of physical pleasure without acquiring disease or getting pregnant. The other is primarily moral and psychological in nature, and stresses that this is the part of sex that’s rewarding and important.”


“There is still not a single, sound peer-reviewed study that shows abstinence programs work,” says William Smith of Siecus. Peter Bearman, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, who has analyzed virginity pledge programs including Rector’s, says: “The money being poured into these programs is out of control. And the thing is this is not about public health. It’s a moral revolution. The goal is not stopping unwanted pregnancy but stopping sexual expression.”


Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is also an obstetrician, has led a campaign to force condom makers to indicate on their labels that they may not prevent certain S.T.D.’s, specifically the human papillomavirus. In 2001, when he was in the House of Representatives, he issued a press release entitled “Condoms Do Not Prevent Most S.T.D.’s.” Sex educators say this is a twisting of data to suit an ideologically driven anti-sex agenda. “An N.I.H. panel said condoms are impermeable to even the smallest S.T.D. viruses,” Cynthia Dailard of Guttmacher says.

Senator Coburn told me that he’s not anti-birth-control: “I’m not a no-condom person. I prescribe tons of birth control products. But that’s only one-half of the issue. The other half is preventing S.T.D.’s.” This is not the message of the federal abstinence initiative, however. The emphasis there is squarely on promoting a moral framework that puts sexuality in a particular place. As the 2007 federal guidelines for program financing state, “It is required that the abstinence education curriculum teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.”


As the Canadian priest Raymond J. de Souza wrote in National Review in 2004, “If children are a sign of hope in the future, Europe — and to a lesser extent Canada, Australia and the United States — is losing its will to live.”

This would seem to be a bind, because the benefits of family planning are profound: couples can organize their lives, financially and otherwise, when they are able to choose when to have children and how many to have. And, around the world, countries in which abortion is legal and contraception is widely available tend to rank among the lowest in rate of abortion, while those that outlaw abortion — notably in Central and South America and Africa — have rates that are among the highest. According to Stanley K. Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute, recent drops in abortion rates in Eastern Europe are due to improved access to contraceptives.


“It’s proven successful,” says Margo Mulder of STI AIDS Netherlands, the Dutch health education center. “It shows that when you discuss contraception and protection with students, they actually are careful. And I know that some people in the U.S. say that when you promote contraception, you’re also promoting sex, but we’ve found that when you educate people, they don’t have sex earlier. They think about it. So you’re not promoting sex, you’re helping them to be rational about doing it.”

The problem with this, as far as American social conservatives are concerned, is that it treats symptoms rather than what they see as the underlying disease: an outlook that is focused on the individual at the expense of family and society. Their ultimate goal is not a number — the percentage of abortions or unintended pregnancies — but an ideal, a way for people to think and behave. As Mohler says of the Dutch approach in particular: “The idea is to completely sever the sex act from reproduction, and then train teens to do it. It treats sex as a morally meaningless act. I find it profoundly anti-humanistic.”

I will summarize this in a second post.

Tuppence in the change bowl.

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