Legislating Sex in the 21st Century


Governments have been legislating (controlling) peoples' sex lives for hundreds of years. Take for example sodomy laws, which broadly referred to any form of non-procreative sex, but more recently, have only referred to anal sex between two men. In the U.S., sodomy laws date all the way back to the 1600's. It wasn't until 2003 that the Supreme Court invalidated all state same-sex (as well as some heterosexual) sodomy laws, finally making it legal for two consenting adult males to engage in sex in privacy (see Lawrence et. al. v. Texas). This was a huge victory for same-sex couples in the U.S and a welcome precedent for the protection of private sexual behavior for all people. Lately though, I have begun to fear for that protection and have become fully aware that my sexual rights are at risk.

The problem today isn't so much the existing laws restricting sexual behavior, like the one in Maryland that makes it illegal to have oral sex or the one in Massachusetts that makes adultery illegal, because they are mostly unenforceable. Rather, I am afraid of the ones that more subtly attempt to tell people who they can and can't have sex with/be intimate with/love, for example same-sex marriage bans. The first time I voted in Texas, I voted on Proposition 2, also known as the same-sex marriage ban. This amendment proposed marriage to be defined as only "the union of one man and one woman" and would prohibit the state from "creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage." The amendment overwhelmingly passed with only an 11 percent statewide voter turnout, although the Houston Chronicle reported that some precincts with a predominantly gay and lesbian population had turnouts as high as 35 percent.

As someone who voted against the ban, I was crushed, disheartened, and extremely disappointed. I felt my rights slowly being taken away, not just from me, but from people I loved and cared about. I became temporarily withdrawn from politics and permanently disenchanted with the concept of marriage. I was sickened by the realization that I lived among people who would (and now could) tell me who I can and can't marry/love/have sex with. The realization that the government was attempting to control peoples' bodies by controlling their sexual behavior became extremely clear. It felt like a slap in the face and the hurt was real. But, it woke me up to other ways the government subtly controls sexual behavior. Take for example federal abstinence-only funding, anti-abortion legislation, mandatory HIV testing, and reduced family planning services under Medicare.

With this week's midterm election, I am again reminded of the ways the government tries to control sexual behavior. I have come to the conclusion that I was voting to secure my right to a private sex life. Now is not the time to return to archaic anti-sex legislation. In a state where my Representative and both my Senators are openly anti-choice and anti-gay rights, I can only hope that my vote will have made a little difference.

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