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Richard Dare, who from all reports is a solid citizen and quite talented, was made president of the New Jersey Symphony on January 2, 2013, and ten days later resigned in what appears to be public disgrace. (New York Times, 1-12-13) The press discovered that in 1996 he was charged with “attempting a lewd act upon” a fifteen-year-old girl. He was thirty-one at the time. Three years later, when the girl reached the legal age of eighteen he married her and they are married still. Dare himself spent 60 days in jail for his offense, spent two years on probation, and was temporarily listed publicly as a sex offender. He has been eminently successful in business ever since and from all reports is a person of good character.
On the face of it Richard Dare cannot be considered a criminal in any sense. He was a man looking for a wife, whose object of affection happened to be a couple of years under the legal limit. That legal age, in this instance eighteen, under which one is considered immature is course quite arbitrary.
A culture that now views Richard Dare as a criminal or a danger to the social order should be defined as a sexually sick culture. Laws against sexualizing youngsters in advance of their readiness for sexual relations are of course useful and necessary to protect the innocent. Richard Dare broke the law technically, and paid the penalty. But only in a most technical sense did he break the law. A male and a female found each other and built a life together for two decades. We should all rejoice at that.
Laws purporting to protect the underaged from sexual predation should not be used as a sledge hammer. Individuals reach sexual and emotional maturity at quite different ages. Enforcement of such laws should allow for such differences. There is a big difference between a six-year-old and a seventeen-year-old. Some eighteen year-old “adults” may still need some protection because of their own idiosyncratic emotional immaturity.
Through most of human history girls were married, or paired off sexually, as soon as they reached puberty, usually with males also in their teens. Current legal prohibitions of sexual pairing prior to age 18 are arbitrary and should be treated by courts and public opinion as such. Sometimes the prohibition promotes human well-being, and sometimes it interferes with legitimate claims of personal autonomy.
The continuing public energy in attempting to disgrace Richard Dare is essentially a fear and loathing of sexual pleasure itself. It is a fear and loathing inherited from Christianity. It is the dark side of Christianity, a religion that has in many other respects brought good things to the human family. The notion that sexual desire is the devil’s work continues to lay a curse on Western Christian culture. The story of Richard Dare is illustrative of the workings of that curse.
Raymond J. Lawrence is an Episcopal cleric, recently retired Director of Pastoral Care, New York Presbyterian Hospital, and author of numerous opinion pieces in newspapers in the U.S., and author of the recently published, Sexual Liberation: The Scandal of Christendom(Praeger). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org