Sex, the Culture Wars and a Republican Congress

Photograph Source: Kevin Dooley – CC BY 2.0

Netflix is currently running the movie, Loving, a dramatization of the true historical drama of the interracial love affair and marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving. The film is set in in mid-1950s thru mid-‘60s Virginia and depicts the couples’ friendship and love.  It also shows that their sexual relationship was accepted by their respective families and immediate community. Nevertheless, the movie makes clear that their 1956 marriage was condemned; they were arrested, and Mrs. Loving jailed.

In 1967, a unanimous Supreme Court found Virginia’s — and other state — laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional, thus acknowledging marriage as a fundamental right. The decision had significant consequences, notably ending the century-old notion of “miscegenation” or illegal or immoral race mixing.

Today, a half-century after Loving, the issue of interracial marriage, let alone love and love making, has essentially disappeared from the ongoing culture wars. However, in March 2022, two months before the Supreme Court’s “leakedDobbs decision was formally issued, Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) said he would welcome the Court rescinding the Loving decision in favor of allowing each state to decide for itself.

Facing criticism, he clarified his position, claiming he had “misunderstood” the question, saying:“That is not something that is even up for debate, and I condemn racism in any form, at all levels and by any states, entities, or individuals. Braun told CNN that he does not believe interracial marriage should be determined by the states. Not up for “debate”? Or is it?


In the wake of the 2022 Congressional elections, Republicans will control the House and the Senate is essentially split. Sadly, conservatives Republican can be expected to push an aggressive culture-wars agenda to maximize opposition to Pres. Joe Biden and build a momentum for the 2024 elections.

For many conservatives, key issues of the culture wars will continue to set their political agenda, including the complete ending of a woman’s right to an abortion, gender non-conformity (especially among young people), restricting gay rights and ending gay marriage, among others.

This agenda was most clearly expressed by right-wing radio host Dana Loesch’s support of Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for the Georgia Senate seat, who paid for a girlfriend’s abortion.  “I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles,” Loesch said. “I want control of the Senate.”

Some Republican want to further restrict abortion to 6 weeks – or completely prohibit it. They share former Vice President Mike Pence’s commitment to end all abortions. As he proclaimed, in the post-Roe era, Republicans “must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”  Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) will likely introduce a bill to end all abortions, nationwide. The anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List, is promoting such legislation and, according to Forbes, “met with Republican contenders for the 2024 presidential nomination about such a ban, including former President Donald Trump.”

On a second front in the Republican culture wars, Georgia’s far-right Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene proposed in September the “Protect Children’s Innocence Act.”  The bill targets gender nonconforming young people and would make it a felony to inflict “transition therapy” — including administering puberty blockers and hormones — on minors. In addition, it would not only block federal funds from subsidizing such procedures but prohibit colleges and universities from discussing it.  The bill was co-sponsored by the rightwing Republican Freedom Caucus

Pushing the Republican anti-gay effort further, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) introduced a version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” (i.e., “Parental Rights in Education”) bill.  Lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced similar bills. Johnson’s bill – “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” – had more than 30 House Republican co-sponsors.

Ironically, just days after the 2022 election, the Senate advanced the “Respect for Marriage Act” by a 62-to-37 vote, overcame the 60-vote threshold to prevent a filibuster.  Twelve Republicans joined the 50 Democrats to advance the bill, which will now be formally voted on by the Senate, then sent back to the House — where it already has passed — and then on to Pres. Joe Biden for his signature.  The Congressional action is an effort to forestall a possible Supreme Court ruling to overturn U.S. v Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalizing gay marriage.

The 2016 Republican Party’s platform asserted:

Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values. We condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which wrongly removed the ability of Congress to define marriage policy in federal law.

The 2016 platform was adopted in 2020.

The National Conference of State Legislatures and Stateline reports that 35 states ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions, state laws or both. The Act would ensure that same-sex and interracial unions would be protected by federal law, granting protection to the marriages by requiring states to recognize them regardless of “sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.”  Among the 37 Republicans who opposed the Act were Sen. Braun and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

The Supreme Court’s Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) decision overturned one key feature of the nearly century-old Comstock law that had prohibited “obscene” materials from the mail, i.e., the sending of contraception information and materials to married couples. A number of Republican Senators, perhaps anticipating a Court reversal, have come out in opposition to Griswold.  Sen. Braun said that the states should decide the matter and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) claimed the decision was “constitutionally unsound.”

And then there is “sex work,” aka prostitution, the oldest profession.  In July, 20 House Republicans voted against the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act; it passed in a 401-20 vote.  The bill calls for allocating more than $1.1 billion over five years to reapprove and bolster programs that were created under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

In March, four Congress-persons — Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) — reintroduced the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act.  It directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct the first federal study on the impact that a 2018 anti-sex trafficking bill known as SESTA/FOSTA has had on sex workers

In July, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 357 that repeals provisions of the law related to loitering with intent to commit prostitution.  Four states are considering bills to decriminalize sex work — New York (S3075/A849), Massachusetts (H1867), Vermont (H630), and Missouri (H2388).  In addition,

the New Jersey Senate passed – and Gov. Phil Murphy signed – a bill that would expunge convictions of human trafficking survivors

The 37 Republican Senators who voted against the “Respect for Marriage Act” voted against affirming the Loving decision.  This happened at a time when a Gallup poll found that 94 percent of adults Americans now approve of marriages between Black and white people — up from 87 percent in 2013 and only 4 percent in 1958.

Equally significant, in the 2020 census, 34 million Americans checked off the “Two or More Races” box when listing their racial identity – a decade earlier, nine million Americans did so.  That’s a 276 percent increase! As the American Prospect points out, “That reflects the rise of cross-racial coupling and resultant childbirths, of course, but it probably also reflects more Americans’ willingness to acknowledge racially mixed parentage or ancestry.”

Perhaps most revealing as to just how split the Republicans are, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) recently issued a statement regarding the Senate’s vote on interracial and same-sex marriage:

To be clear, there is no effort in Congress or the courts to overturn Loving v. Virginia, which recognizes interracial marriages, or Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognizes same-sex marriages. I don’t believe the Supreme Court would reverse these cases even if they were challenged, and I don’t believe it is prudent for politicians to imply otherwise in order to fabricate unnecessary discontent in our nation.

We shall see.


The radical insurgency of the ‘60s forged a counterculture that challenged traditional American values. “The decade of the ‘60s had ushered in an unprecedented sexual permissiveness, characterized by mini skirts, the pill, group sex, mate swapping, a skyrocketing divorce rate, and acceptance of premarital sex,” observed the historian, Lillian Faderman.  “The rigidities of the ‘50s was turned on its head.  Heterosexuality began to look somewhat like homosexuality, as nonproductive sex and cohabitation without marriage came to be commonplace.”

For many traditionalists and mainstream Americans, pot, LSD, rock-&-roll, sex and radical politics were threats to the nation’s moral order.  California’s newly elected governor, Ronald Reagan, denounced a hippie as someone who “dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”  Religious leaders were especially worried.  James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was repulsed by the ‘60s counterculture.  He summarized its radical secularism in no uncertain terms:

God is dead; immorality is wonderful; nudity is noble; irresponsibility is groovy; disrespect and irreverence are fashionable; unpopular laws are to be disobeyed; violence is an acceptable vehicle for bringing change (as were childhood tantrums).

Dodson feared the “rapid reversal of social mores [that] is unparalleled in man’s history” and warned, “Never has a society abandoned its concept of morality more suddenly than … in America during the decade of the sixties.”  Reagan’s and Dodson’s lamentations set the stage for the cultural counterrevolution that would define the culture wars of 1970s and Congressional Republicans in 2023.

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; check out