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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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If the Christian Right had its way, the United States would be a fundamentalist theocracy in which contraception, homosexuality, abortion, sexually explicit hip-hop lyrics and all adult pornography were illegal. But making the U.S. that much of a theocracy would mean overturning a lot of major Supreme Court decisions. Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has had many rulings that helped to advance sexual freedom in the United States—and it will be easier to protect those advances if fewer socially conservative justices of the Antonin Scalia/Clarence Thomas variety are appointed in the future. 

Certainly, the Christian Right would have had a better chance of bringing more hardcore social conservatives to the High Court if Republican Mitt Romney had been elected president on November 6, whereas President Barack Obama has shown a tendency to nominate justices who are at least centrist in their judicial philosophy. And now that Obama is getting ready to begin his second term, he will be more likely to appoint justices who will uphold or perhaps even expand Supreme Court decisions that are favorable to gay rights ( Lawrence v. Texas), contraception ( Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird), or one’s right to possess sexually explicit adult erotica ( Stanley v. Georgia). 

Below are 10 landmark decisions that have had major implications for sexual freedom in the United States.

1. Stanley v. Georgia (1969)

The Christian Right loves to demonize the late Earl Warren, who served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1953-1969—and social conservatives’ hatred of Warren is quite ironic in light of the fact that he was a Republican who was nominated by GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Warren served three terms as California’s Republican governor and was Republican Thomas E. Dewey’s running mate in the 1948 presidential election). But then, the term “socially liberal Republican” wasn’t an oxymoron in the days of the Warren Court. And shortly before Warren’s retirement in 1969, the Warren Court handed down one of the rulings social conservatives are still cursing 43 years later: its decision in  Stanley v. Georgia, which said that simple possession of adult pornography is not a crime even if the material is obscene. The  Stanley v. Georgia ruling upheld that selling, creating or distributing obscene adult material was illegal, but a consumer could not be charged with obscenity merely for being in possession of that material. In the U.K., civil libertarians have been quite critical of what has been called the “extreme porn law” (which says Internet users can be sent to prison for up to three years merely for downloading “extreme pornography”). Britain’s extreme porn law would not be possible in the U.S. because it would be a violation of the Supreme Court’s  Stanley v. Georgia ruling. Only if the Supreme Court overturned  Stanley v. Georgia could the U.S. adopt a possession-oriented adult obscenity law along the lines of Britain’s law.

2. Roe v. Wade (1973)

If there is one High Court decision that the Christian Right hates more than any others, it is the  Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Before that, abortion laws varied considerably from state to state—and  Roe v. Wade declared most of the state abortion laws that existed at the time to be unconstitutional. Nationwide,  Roe v. Wade made it much easier to obtain abortions during the first trimester of a pregnancy. The Christian Right, after all these years, continues to hope that  Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned—which could happen if enough socially conservative justices are appointed to the Supreme Court. Were that to happen, it wouldn’t be a total nationwide ban on abortion; rather, one would likely see abortion banned in some states and maintained in others. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there would be more abortions in liberal-leaning states than in socially conservative Republican-dominated states. Possibly, the more socially liberal states would encourage comprehensive sex education and easier access to contraception, thus reducing the need for abortions—whereas in the Bible Belt states that banned abortion, Christian Right attacks on sex-ed and birth control would lead to more unplanned pregnancies and an abundance of illegal, unsafe back-alley abortions. So per capita, there might be  more abortions (albeit illegal ones) in so-called “red states” should  Roe v. Wade be overturned. But that is pure speculation. What we can say with certainty is that President Obama favors upholding  Roe v. Wade while Romney favors overturning it.

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