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10 Key Court Decisions That Prevent Right-Wing Christians from Controlling Your Sex Life

If the Christian Right had its way, the U.S. would be a theocracy.

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6. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972)

Another Warren Court ruling that social conservatives detest is the 1965 ruling in  Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down a Connecticut law that forbade the use of contraceptives for married couples. That law, which had been on the books since 1879, had been unsuccessfully challenged in previous cases, including  Tileston v. Ullman in 1943 and  Poe v. Ullman in 1961. But it wasn’t until  Griswold v. Connecticutthat the law was finally declared to be unconstitutional, and the person we can thank for that case is the late feminist Estelle Griswold (who served as executive director of Planned Parenthood’s Connecticut branch). Griswold began to challenge the Connecticut law in the 1950s, when she organized “border runs” in which Connecticut women were taken to New York State or Rhode Island in order to obtain the contraception they couldn’t legally obtain in Connecticut. Griswold later opened a birth control clinic in New Haven, which resulted in her being arrested and fined $100 for violating the 1879 law. Griswold’s arrest was upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but that ruling was overturned when  Griswold v. Connecticut went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1972, the  Griswold v. Connecticut decision was expanded to unmarried couples with the Supreme Court’s ruling in  Eisenstadt v. Baird. That case went to the High Court thanks to pro-birth control activist William Baird, who was arrested in 1967 for violating a Massachusetts law that prohibited the distribution of contraception to unmarried people. The Massachusetts law wasn’t as restrictive as the 1879 Connecticut law that was struck down in 1965, but it did say that contraception could only be given to married people and only by doctors and pharmacists. Baird’s arrest came about when he gave a condom and a package of contraceptive foam to an unmarried 19-year-old woman after a lecture at Boston University. The Massachusetts law, however, was declared unconstitutional when Baird appealed his arrest all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

7. Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

In 2003, the Supreme Court was way to the right of where it had been in the days of the Warren Court or even the Burger Court. Yet it was in 2003 that the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling in  Lawrence v. Texas, which declared a Texas sodomy law to be unconstitutional and in effect invalidated sodomy laws in 13 other states.  Lawrence v. Texas was passed by a 6-3 majority, with justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice William Rehnquist dissenting. Like  Stanley v. GeorgiaLawrence v. Texas was a “right to privacy in the home” decision—and it was a major victory for gay rights, which is why Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum (a senator at the time) opposed it so vociferously. Santorum infamously stated that the ruling was flawed because a right to privacy “doesn’t exist” in the U.S. Constitution.

8. Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union (1997)

The 1990s saw the rise of a new medium that could be used to sell and distribute sexually explicit or erotic material: the Internet—and the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was Congress’ first major attempt to regulate obscenity and indecency online. The CDA made it a crime to knowingly transmit “obscene or indecent” images to anyone under 18; using some of the language of the Miller test, the CDA made it a crime to send minors material that “depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs.” But when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the CDA, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-indecency elements of the CDA on the grounds that they violated the First Amendment. Justice John Paul Stevens, who felt the CDA’s language was much too broad, wrote that “the CDA effectively suppresses a large amount of speech that adults have a constitutional right to receive and to address to one another.” In other words, the Supreme Court ruled that some material can be inappropriate for minors but perfectly OK for adults. Stevens’ assertion was a major blow to those who wanted to suppress adult-oriented material on the grounds that minors shouldn’t see it. In that sense, it was yet another nail in the coffin of the old 19th-century  Regina v. Hicklin belief that material was obscene if it wasn’t appropriate for “the most susceptible members of society.”

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