By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Last week President Bush called on his ever-prayerful cabinet to refocus its attention on shoring up Christian values, as part of his platform for "Communities of Character." In effect, he took another step in the Christian right's determined campaign to transform the U.S. into a theocracy. That's not surprising, since the Christian right is Bush's most treasured political ally, and he's got to listen up when they speak.
The main way to support fundamentalist Christians is to protect the institutions of patriarchy. In a Christer world, men carry out instructions from God, and women are men's docile assistants. Their main job is to have babies, preferably white. Otherwise, they stay in the kitchen, take care of the children, speak when spoken to, and for all intents and purposes remain the property of the husband.
Modern patriarchy depends on the federal government's reaching down into the bedroom to control the sexual activity of the besieged heterosexual nuclear family. Where, when, and how people have sex remains the organizing principle of society and the single most important domestic political problem of our time. Both Bush and the Congress have been busily addressing the situation by attempting to legislate sexual morality. A few examples:
Abolishing abortion:Bush and his conservative allies are targeting abortion, whittling away at state laws and passing a House bill to give the fetus some of the same legal protections as a human being. They seek to limit research on embryonic stem cells and to ban cloning.
Gay rights:Congress slowly moves toward creating a gulag. Members won points at home by promoting the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by Clinton and requiring the federal government to ignore legal same-sex marriages allowed by a state. Thus a couple considered married in Vermont essentially has to forfeit that status if they move elsewhere. "This was the first time in U.S. history that the federal government adopted a definition of marriage of any kind," the ACLU notes. "Until now, the federal government has always accepted state definitions of marriage for federal law. DOMA has the effect of treating all lesbian and gay couples as strangers under federal laws."
Today an even more dangerous measure, a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution, would further define marriage as a bond between man and woman (See "The Marriage Bomb," by Richard Goldstein, July 31). As part of the Constitution, it would cut off court challenges and nullify local statutes that permit unmarried partners of either sex to share health plans, pensions, and hospital visitsright down to the adoption of each other's kids.
Other congressional measures have banned federal funds from any school district that withholds money for the antigay Boy Scouts. And a House-passed bill would exempt religious charities from state and local antidiscrimination laws.
Abstinence:The administration is pouring $47 million into "abstinence only" sex education programs (See "An Orgy of Abstinence," Sharon Lerner, August 7). Schools that take part in this crackpot scheme are prohibited from counseling teenagers on birth control, AIDS, and other venereal diseases. Abstinence-only is supported by Washington's reigning ethicist, Bill Bennett. Bush brother Jeb is putting $1 million of Florida's money into abstinence.
Tax breaks:Bush has pledged to make the IRS codes friendlier to families, though traditional households already get tax breaks not available to others. Taxes are another way to penalize gay couples by pretending they don't exist. Under estate-tax rules, for example, a legal heterosexual spouse doesn't pay any tax on inheritance, but a surviving gay partner pays federal taxes on anything above $675,000. Under the gift-tax regs, a married partner can give his or her spouse a gift tax-free. For gay partners, gifts totaling more than $10,000 a year are taxable. If an employer offers health care benefits, married partners get them tax-free. For gays, health care benefits count as taxable income.
Telecommunications:Congress is falling all over itself to protect children with filters that can censor sex and violence on the Web. One long-standing leader in this is John McCain, who wants to block what he considers indecency from school and library computers. If Congress actually enacts any of this, it will of course be setting up a red-light district on the Internet, something Justice Sandra Day O'Connor supposedly endorses, and establishing a whipping boy for every member of Congress. In addition to cracking down on porn, a surefire way to get votes, they now can rant against pervs on the Net.
One special target here is rap music. Last week, the members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee ganged up against the genre. At a hearing on the subject, much was made of a Federal Trade Commission report on explicit content featuring 29 record albums. Twenty-two of those albums were by African Americans, wrote Russell Simmons, chair of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, in a New York Timesop-ed, yet there was "no one to represent the black rap artists who were clearly being singled out." Most members of the Senate, he went on to point out, are white, middle-class, and middle-aged.