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Enforcing the Culture Wars

There is a proposal making its way through the Arizona legislature that would criminalize consenting adults making “pornography.”

One would think that in an age of cheap digital video cameras and Apple’s Final Cut software as well as hundreds of thousands of “adult” porn sites on the web, including zillions showing DIY porn, that the moralistic right would give up the fight on “porn.” One would think. Not in Arizona.

In the face of this pending legislation, Tempe hosted, on March 3rd and 4th, the 5th annual Arizona Porn Star Ball. Surely, there’s a porn public flourishing in the desert who’d go out for a good show. But few if any “professional” porn producers are based in Arizona.

In the wake of Los Angeles’ recent passage of an ordinance requiring porn stars to wear condoms, there have been rumors afoot that this very lucrative industry just might relocate to the Grand Canyon State. Laughing at the lunacy of the proposition, porn star Taryn Thomas acknowledged the obvious: “They don’t seem to think anybody really is going to be relocated to Phoenix … they’re saying Miami and Las Vegas because that’s where studios have already gone.”

The Arizona proposal to criminalize consenting adults making porn could become law. It was promoted by the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), the state’s leading rightwing think-tank. Reviewing its website and other online information, it seems that the proposed legislation’s high-minded moral standard was arbitrarily established by a clique of frightened, aging white Christian conservatives.

It’s not clear if other state legislatures will pick up this call to use the power of the state to enforce standards of moral rectitude on porn production. Most states are promoting restrictions of what is variously defined as “child” pornography, limitations of “obscene” depictions of underage children or restrictions of underage youths from viewing “obscene” online material. More sinister, if the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved, legislation similar to the Arizona bill is likely to be introduced, in cookie-cutter fashion, in other states.

Two sex-related issues are critical to the 2012 elections: a woman’s right to control her sexual life (i.e., contraception and abortion) and the marriage of same-sex adults. They are the defining sexual issues of our time, incarnations of battles having been waged for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. These issues, a woman’s control of her body and the range of human sexual being, frame our civil discourse about – and personal experience of – erotic pleasure. Since the first New England colonies four centuries ago, too many Americans have been terrified of erotic pleasure.

The Christian right has effectively seized control of many state legislatures and systematically moved to pass laws to restrict sexual pleasure. These laws, along with other efforts, are intended to preserve patriarchy and traditional monogamous heterosexuality. However, today’s sex wars conceal a host of attendant campaigns as well as other, secondary, battles being fought over the meaning of 21st century sexual pleasure.

The war against a woman’s right to sexual pleasure is being fought out on a number of overlapping fronts. Culture-war conservatives and their Republican politicians got drubbed over the Komen Foundation’s attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood. They then got upended over the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ opposition to the Obama health plan requirement to include conception as part of insurance coverage. Early indications suggest popular opposition, especially among a growing number of American women, to the Christian right’s anti-sex campaigns.

Earlier this year, a “heartbeat” bill was introduced in the Ohio state senate. The bill would ban abortions after a fetus’ heartbeat could be heard in an ultrasound procedure conducted on the pregnant mother. Similar legislature has been introduced in Mississippi, Oklahoma and other states.

(In response, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner introduced a bill to limit a man’s access to erectile dysfunction [“ED”] drugs like Viagra.

To purchase such products, her legislation would require a man to “attain an affidavit from a sexual partner attesting to his impotency, see a state-approved sex therapist, complete a stress test to assure he is healthy enough for sexual activity, and return to the doctor every 90 days to check on his cardiac health.” Such legislative jests best unmasks the hypocrisy of patriarchal politics.)

These “heartbeat” bills appear to have been an ALEC-generated initiative. This corporate think-tank promotes “model” state legislation to further the interests of corporate special interests and other conservative, Republican concerns. ALEC provided the model “Stand Your Ground” (often called “Kill at Will”) legislation that culminated in the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; last year, ALEC modelled legislation was used in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states in a coordinated attempt to break state-employee unions. One must commend Color of Change’s campaign against ALEC that has led Coke, Pepsi and other major consumer companies to cancel their memberships.

ALEC has promoted other model anti-choice bills either approved or making their way through state legislatures. One would require doctors to tell pregnant women they have to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus before they can terminate their pregnancy. Another involves what is known as a “personhood” measure, introduced in Virginia and other states, that defines life as beginning at conception.

Minnesota’s Gov. Scott Walker, facing a June recall, recently signed a pair of Republican-promoted bills requiring doctors to consult privately with women seeking abortions and blocking abortion coverage through health care exchanges. In addition, state Senate Republicans pushed through two bills backed by the anti-choice group, the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, that: (i) requires a new license and inspections for any “clinic, health center or other facility” that performs ten or more abortions per month; and (ii) requires a doctor’s presence when an abortion-inducing drug such as RU-486 is administered and prohibit the physician from participating via video conference.

The anti-choice hysteria is amplified in Texas where Gov. Rick Perry recently announced his intention to implement a new law excluding Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid Women’s Health Program. The law would violate federal Medicaid law and thus jeopardize some $40 million in funding. The program provides cancer screenings, contraceptives and basic health care to about 130,000 low-income women.

Not to be undone, the Texas legislation is considering two repressive bills: Senate Bill 319 extends to the fetus (i.e., “unborn children”) normal legal protections such as homicide and assault; and House Bill 15 extends the regulation of abortion to only licensed medical center, to a fetus aged 16 weeks or older and that a woman certify in writing that her informed consent to the procedure.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Lawrence v Texas (2003) decision that guaranteed the privacy of consenting adults to engage in once-considered illicit, if not immoral, sexual pleasures, homoeroticism. Texas remains one the few states that still refuses to accept Lawrence. In its 2010 platform, the Texas Republican Party called for homosexuality to remain illegal, a criminal offense: “We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy.” So much for the Law of the Land. Putting teeth to this policy goal, the Republican-controlled Texas Senate recently introduced Bill 7 that blocks “the state or an agency or political subdivision” from recognize same-sex marriages.

Texas is not alone is its war to preserve patriarchal heterosexuality. During North Carolina’s primary on May 8th (which will have a different cast without Rich Santorum) voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue of marriage equality. While same-sex marriage is already prohibited in the state by statute, conservative forces are pushing to extend the prohibition to the state’s constitution. President Obama’s campaign recently came out against the amendment.

Joining the anti-marriage equality crusade, Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN) is championing a state amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. A different front in the homophobia wars recently sprung up in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, northwest of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Local conservatives, including Christian parents and an orthodox rabbi, pushed the district to purge the school curriculum from any mention of homosexuality. In addition, they demanded that teachers teach about “ex-homosexuals” and “gay-related immune deficiency” (i.e., HIV-AIDS). At a recent school board hearing, some of those who testified simply read Bible passages to assail the LGBT community.

In addition to these pressing, high profile concerns, a host of other, secondary, issues define local anti-sex battles. Unfortunately, these battles get little national attention. For example, in 2010, the Arizona legislature passed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to limit sex education in the classroom. To participate in sex ed classes or receive sex-related materials in any other class, a student must get a parent’s written permission. The legislation was promoted by the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), a rightwing think-tank. It backs traditional sex ed, abstinence until marriage, and opposes what is known as “medically accurate” curriculum or “Comprehensive Sex Education.”

CAP promotes legislation favorable to corporate interests and Christian conservatives. In this vain, they spearheaded anti-marriage equality efforts, pushed to criminalize consenting adults who make “pornography,” requires informed consent for human egg donation, sought to ban embryonic stem cell research and even proposed legislation to regulating the distance between a church and a “sexually-oriented” business.

We live in a crazy country when it comes to sex. Alaska’s Republican Governor Sean Parnell appointed Don Haase to a judicial selection panel. Haase recently admitted that he thinks sex outside of marriage should be illegal. However, he insisted that while a crime, adultery: “I don’t see that that would rise to the level of a felony.”

Indiana has joined a growing number of states passing what are known as “anti-sex trafficking” legislation. The bill claims that it makes it easier to prosecute a trafficker who intentionally “recruits, harbors, or transports” someone when forcing them into participating in sexual conduct. A positive feature of the law is recognizing that children under 16-years who have been caught engaging in commercial sex are sex-trafficking victims.

This is a noble and well-intentioned effort. Unfortunately, anti-trafficking laws are being used to arrest a growing number of young women being driven to commercial sex because of the deepening recession. These “sex trafficking” laws seem to neither acknowledge this social reality, nor suggest a solution to the problems it represents: The commercial fulfillment of men’s need/desire for sexual pleasure.

The nation’s current economic crisis is fostering a social crisis with a sexual dimension. Today’s sex crisis is not like that of two decades ago, when HIV/AIDS devastated all-too-many lives; it was a crisis that led to the death of thousands, long-term and often debilitating illness for many, and a change in sexual practice (i.e., safe sex). Sexual pleasure was changed.

Today’s crisis is reminiscent of the one that took place during the 1910s and ‘20s. Then, the U.S. was being restructured from an agrarian to an industrial – and international – nation; it faced an historically unprecedented crisis about female sexuality.

Prohibition was not only a war against alcohol consumption but sexual “excesses” as well. Such excess ranged from lipstick, short skirts and cigarettes to jazz music, wild dancing and premarital sexual intimacy (but rarely intercourse). These were the pleasures – and power – of a new woman, one with an education, money in her pocket and the vote. This was an historically unprecedented development in U.S. history; it took the 1929 stock-market crash and the Great Depression to kill the flapper! She was the 20th century’s new woman; she is the 21st century’s every-woman.

Now, nearly a century later, a new sexual crisis is playing out. Today, the U.S. is again being restructured, this time from an industrial to a post-modern – and globalized – nation; it faces a similarly unprecedented crisis about sexuality, this one challenging the traditional notion of monogamous heterosexuality.

Patriarchal heterosexuality in the West is under assault from two unstoppable forces. First, an increasing number of people, both men and women, accept the equality of the sexes, both socio-politically and personally. Second, an increasing number of people, both men and women, accept the notion that humans are pan-sexuality creatures, whether for themselves or others, whether involving differences of race or sexual orientation. Being human, especially sexually so, involves far more than what is written in books, shown on TV or depicted in movies.

In the face of the current restructuring of the world economy and the forging of new sexual relations, the forces of moral rectitude hold on desperately, fearful of change, terrified of pleasure. Having lost control of moral suasion, they have lost control of their own youth as well as a vast majority of Americans. They are left only with the state to enforce their impotent morality.

David Rosen writes the blog, Media Current, for Filmmaker; and can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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