Sunday, March 18, 2012

Conservative group to gather, bemoan 40 year old advance in sexual freedom

No, I'm not kidding. And no, this is not from The Onion, though it sounds like it. The Family Research Council is holding a symposium on Wednesday, March 21st, to get together and talk about a terrible moment in history. The title is 40 Years Since Eisenstadt v. Baird: A Look at the High Court's Legal Attack on Marriage. Eisenstadt v. Baird, whose ruling was actually delivered on March 22, 1972, was when SCOTUS decided that unmarried people should have the same access to contraceptives that married people do, invalidating state laws to the contrary. Here is the FRC's statement on the purpose of their event:
On March 22nd, 1972, the Supreme Court undermined the boundaries and benefits of marriage. In the decision Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court struck down a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people, and implicitly sanctioned unmarried non-procreative sexual intimacy. 
While the decision may seem archaic and insignificant by modern sexual standards, Eisenstadt v. Baird dealt a decisive blow to the legal and cultural norm that marriage was the institution for the full expression of the sexual relationship between man and woman. The decision and its legal consequences affect us today. Forty years ago, the Court ruled that unmarried couples could not be denied their birth control. Today, the Federal government is forcing us to share the cost, for said contraception and some states are giving marital status to homosexual relationships. 
Join us on March 21st, as legal and social science experts Helen Alvaré and Pat Fagan explain why the Court's decision matters and how anyone who cares about the family should understand the legal landscape and the social consequences of this momentous decision.
It's telling that the final paragraph refers to "the family," and not "families." This is for the same reason that the organization is called the Family Research Council in the first place-- to seize hold of the notion of "family" and fight with tooth and nail against it referring to any other arrangement than one biological mother and one biological father who are married and have sex only after marriage. I would say "for the purpose of procreation," but apparently the FRC is a-okay with sanctioning married non-procreative intimacy, just not the unmarried kind.

And of course, they likewise want to grab onto the word "marriage" and insist that only one meaning of the word is appropriate-- theirs. That's the only way to describe the SCOTUS ruling as an "attack on marriage" with a straight face, when it did absolutely nothing to actually prevent people from getting married (just as, when it eventually acknowledges the right of gays to marry, it will do nothing to prevent anyone from getting married but conservatives will likewise again complain about being "attacked"). Presumably the FRC wants all children to be born to married parents, so their opposition to Eisenstadt here amounts to an objection to unmarried people being able to have sex, period. Thinking about this, bear in mind that not only did 95% of Americans have premarital sex in 2002, but that (evenly balanced as to sex) 70% had it in the 1930's.

The people going to the FRC gathering on Wednesday should consider that their great-grandparents might well have had sex outside of marriage, and used contraceptives in the process to prevent pregnancy. Yes, I know it's not fun to think about your ancestors having sex, period. But just for the sake of this thought experiment, it's important. It's important for the sake of remembering that no matter how much you want children to be born to parents joined in marriage, the solution is not to try and force unmarried people into marriage by preventing them from being able to have sex without risk of conception. For one thing, it should be obvious by now that that doesn't work. For another, people make their own sex lives, both before and after marriage (or totally outside of it, for those of us who are not keen on marriage to begin with). It's possible that if Eisenstadt had not turned out in the way it did, there might still be states with laws on the books preventing unmarried couples from having access to birth control. In which case we could expect to see the number of married couples skyrocket, but the demand for birth control remain the same if it doesn't escalate. Because people who want to have sex without procreating will do so. And they are the majority, all of the time.


  1. I think that unmarried heterosexuals who are responsible about birth control use are actually the people who are more likely to form the kinds of marriages and families that these people claim they want to protect. My relatively non-religious peers who finished college and in most cases, graduate school, used birth control, and eschewed single parenthood in favor of marriage (or in the case of gay friends, formed stable committed relationships) in which they raised or are raising children. The fact is, birth control use has become conventional among those who pursue older conventions of success, stability and family life. A great obstacle to that stability is the failure to responsibly use birth control.

    What these Christian conservatives don't seem to acknowledge is their own contribution to the conditions that they say are a problem. They refuse to teach their kids about birth control and they indoctrinate them in the belief that abortion is unthinkable. To sell the latter position, they tell their pregnant teenage daughters to carry the pregnancy to term, even if they're in no position to raise a child. Then they discover that at 18-years-old, without a high school diploma, boyfriend Levi isn't fit to be a supportive father for the child of his unemployed, 17-year-old ex-girlfriend. Who knew?

    I'd contrast that approach with the approach that was typical among my peers and their parents. We were indoctrinated to believe that sex is fine, but having children while single and unprepared to support them was wrong because we couldn't be good parents and we'd make our own lives hell. So having sex was acceptable, but having a child before one is ready was as unthinkable as abortion is to a conservative Christian.

  2. For those interested in history of Eisenstadt v. Baird, Mr. Baird at 80-years-old continues activities in defense of reproductive rights.

    Julian Praxis
    Pro Choice League


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