Bring on the Culture War

The night the good reverend called me a prostitute on a live radio show after one of my columns had touted the benfits of masturbation, I didn't know that he had lost his 300-member flock over an affair with a married parishioner. He said my column was the most licentious thing he had ever read.

This same reverend, who blamed his infidelity on "a lifelong addiction to porn," now crusades against community indecency with a repenter's conviction. As head of yet another "family values" group, he leads boycotts against such smut peddlers as the local independent weekly.

I doubt my manual contribution to a masturbate-a-thon tops the reverend's bulging and doubly checked licentious list.

On the other hand, the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling for the fundamental right to privacy has emerged as the retro right's biggest bogeyman. Another religious leader, Pat Robertson, launched on his Christian Broadcast Network a 21-day "prayer offensive," having viewers nationwide pray to remove three of the judges that voted for Lawrence v. Texas, enabling President Bush to stack the court with conservatives.

Robertson's letter, posted on the CBN website, targeted three judges with health problems, but spared Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the radical gay-lovin' opinion, "The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."

The battle for America the Beautiful has just begun. The right is rallying its "pro-family" troops for 2004, reacting as if sanctioned sexual privacy poses a bigger threat to national security than the still at large Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Forget terrorism, bring on the culture war. The morality police, yearning for the days when men were men, women were pure, and anyone light in the loafers stayed in the closet, fear that the sky will fall without sodomy laws to prop it up. Like the fallen reverend, the chicken traditionalists must battle bigger personal demons than the average guy just trying to live and love. Decriminalizing homosexual coupling, conservative pundits warn, has opened a Pandora's box of the unspeakable upon our kids and pets.

Senatorial top dog Bill Frist nodded to his rabid Republican base by "absolutely" endorsing a Constitutional amendment to outlaw not only same-sex marriage, but also vital protections embedded in civil unions. Bush-cozy Family Research Council issued a fundraising letter titled "No Gay GOP!" and issue daily email alerts like, "Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of the Gay Lifestyle." Just because the black robes lifted gays from America's taboo ghetto doesn't mean the right can't further demonize them for cash and votes.

Ideologues take Ozzie-and-Harriett wannabes down a slippery slope of sex scares. Loosen government's grip on the homosexual bedroom, they say, and then anything goes. Same-sex marriage is next, obliterating procreating marriages. Now states can't regulate morality, rendering impotent "laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity," according to Justice Antonin Scalia. Next thing you know even heterosexuals will enjoy sodomy.

Oh yeah, Americans of all persuasions, even Republican, already engage in such dalliances, yet kids and money, not masturbation, fornication or fellatio, still top the list of reasons for marital disputes. As far as bigamy, incest and bestiality, our criminal justice system is free to better distinguish between sexual pleasure and such abuses. Grown-ups know adultery doesn't need an outside prosecutor to render retribution. And prohibiting prostitution and obscenity will always be less black and white here than in faraway lands ruled by theocrats and tribal traditions.

Lumping same-sex intimacy by tax paying, community-enriching friends and family with sexual abuse and exploitation, commerce or betrayal is offensive, if not obscene. Moreover, dumping the weight of society's morality on the backs of a minority class of citizens is un-American. That's like fundamentalist regimes in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia dumping family honor and social order on female modesty. It's much easier to control a woman's ankle exposure than it is rampant unemployment, illiteracy and infant mortality. Unlike Muslim nations with state-appointed vice and virtue squads, America's moral strength does not lie in snuffing out the passions of the other guy. The freedom Americans cherish and champion globally is not only political and economic, but also fiercely personal.

Still, most of us are of the boy-girl variety and might squirm a bit to see two men or two women all snuggly together. So sexual scapegoating makes savvy politics. The Atlantic Monthly reported on two bipartisan pollsters who could determine someone's party by how he or she answered three sex questions. Republicans tend to find moral clarity in candidates who, like the reverend, preach sexual purity no matter how sullied their own sock drawers.

Recently a mother emailed me with thanks for not making her two gay sons out to be monsters in one of my columns. Her letter granted me a glimpse of just how much politicizing sexual morality blights real lives as it boosts packaged political ones.

Respect for individual rights and responsibility, even for the marginalized, is part of what makes America civilized. I pray our confirmed constitutional right to privacy will continue to override the stone-throwers no matter who Robertson's prayer offensive and Republican hardballers replace on our nation's highest court.

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