Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Sixth Circuit Decision Upholding Gay Marriage Bans Invites Supreme Court Review

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On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. It did so by reversing lower court rulings striking down the bans. This decision puts the Sixth Circuit out of step with the other circuit courts to address the issue thus far (the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth). The decision is sure to be appealed, and many observers believe it will be the vehicle by which SCOTUS finally weighs in on the issue.

DeBoer v. Snyder was decided 2-1. The majority decision was authored by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton. Sutton largely argues that the definition of marriage should not be “constitutionalized” and that change should come from the voters. He maintains that the right to marriage recognized as fundamental in prior SCOTUS cases is defined by, and presumes, a relationship between one man and one woman. He rejects sexual orientation as a suspect classification entitled to heightened scrutiny, and frets that constitutionalizing gay marriage will require recognition of plural marriages.

Having found no need to apply heightened scrutiny to the bans, Sutton finds two rational bases for denying marriage to same sex couples. The first involves channeling straight people’s sexual energies into monogamous, legally binding relationships:

One starts from the premise that governments got into the business of defining marriage, and remain in the business of defining marriage, not to regulate love but to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse. Imagine a society without marriage. It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children. May men and women follow their procreative urges wherever they take them? Who is responsible for the children that result? How many mates may an individual have? How does one decide which set of mates is responsible for which set of children? That we rarely think about these questions nowadays shows only how far we have come and how relatively stable our society is, not that States have no explanation for creating such rules in the first place.

Once one accepts a need to establish such ground rules, and most especially a need to create stable family units for the planned and unplanned creation of children, one can well appreciate why the citizenry would think that a reasonable first concern of any society is the need to regulate male-female relationships and the unique procreative possibilities of them. One way to pursue this objective is to encourage couples to enter lasting relationships through subsidies and other benefits and to discourage them from ending such relationships through these and other means.

The dissent scores powerful points observing that heterosexuals are already free to follow their procreative urges where they will, and that the unwanted children resulting from such unions suffer when their adopted same-sex parents are precluded from marrying. In any case, Sutton’s second rationale for upholding the bans has to do with principles of federalism:

[O]ne of the key insights of federalism is that it permits laboratories of experimentation—accent on the plural—allowing one State to innovate one way, another State another, and a third State to assess the trial and error over time. …. How can we say that the voters acted irrationally for sticking with the seen benefits of thousands of years of adherence to the traditional definition of marriage in the face of one year of experience with a new definition of marriage? A State still assessing how this has worked, whether in 2004 or 2014, is not showing irrationality, just a sense of stability and an interest in seeing how the new definition has worked elsewhere. Even today, the only thing anyone knows for sure about the long-term impact of redefining marriage is that they do not know. A Burkean sense of caution does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, least of all when measured by a timeline less than a dozen years long and when assessed by a system of government designed to foster step-by-step, not sudden winner-take-all, innovations to policy problems.

Indeed, this decision creates a conflict among the circuit courts that did not exist (or at least not clearly) back in October, when SCOTUS declined to hear appeals from decisions in the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth circuits striking down similar bans.

Shortly after SCOTUS declined those appeals, the Ninth Circuit also struck down bans.

Collectively, those decisions were reached in a variety of ways: finding that the bans failed under rational basis review; applying heightened scrutiny to restriction of a fundamental right under a due process analysis; or applying heightened scrutiny under an equal protection analysis based on suspect classification or history of animus. However reached, they had the result of making gay marriage legal in 32 states (with three additional states with bans still technically in effect, which will inevitably be struck down).

That left litigation percolating in the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh circuits. The decision Thursday by the Sixth was the first to break the prior pattern. Most commentators believe SCOTUS will now accept review to resolve the conflict. As Doug Mataconis, writing for Outside the Beltway, explained:

[T]he most important thing about the decisions in these cases is the fact that it creates the split among the Circuit Courts of Appeals that the Justices apparently felt was lacking when they considered the appeals it acted on in early October. … With this decision, though it can no longer be said that there is not a Circuit split since the differences between Judge Sutton’s opinion and those from the other four Circuits could not be more apparent. Thus, the one thing that didn’t exist on this issue in early October regarding this issue can now be said to clearly exist, and the likelihood that the Supreme Court will accept an appeal to this decision would seem to be quite high.

Only four justices need to agree for SCOTUS to accept an appeal. Assuming one is accepted, Mataconis and others predict SCOTUS will rule that the states cannot regulate gay marriage, by a majority consisting of at least Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, plus Kennedy.[1]

From my own perspective, I do not see how we avoid the leviathan of government once we accept its tentacles are properly applied to the regulation of personal relationships. Even if the collective will was acceptably used to such ends, I have not come across convincing reasons for denying same sex couples access to the same bag of government goodies, incentives and subsidies enjoyed by opposite sex couples. The various theories propounded by opponents of gay marriage are belied by the sound sociological research to the contrary. Plural marriage does not frighten me, both because it does not rise to the same level of constitutional scrutiny as gay marriage—and because it is inherently non-frightening. Finally, I have and will continue to oppose all efforts to force private people, churches or businesses to associate with gay marriages against their will. The same principles that underpin the right to choose a spouse also underpin the right to choose with whom to do business.

I will close with Justice Sutton’s own observation that:

Over time, marriage has come to serve another value—to solemnize relationships characterized by love, affection, and commitment. Gay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of sharing such relationships. And gay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of raising children and providing stable families for them. The quality of such relationships, and the capacity to raise children within them, turns not on sexual orientation but on individual choices and individual commitment. All of this supports the policy argument made by many that marriage laws should be extended to gay couples, just as nineteen States have done through their own sovereign powers.

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[1] Kennedy wrote the majority decisions in Romer v. Evans (overturning a Colorado law preventing local governments from enacting anti-discrimination regulations to protect homosexuals), Lawrence v. Texas (overruling sodomy laws), and U.S. v. Windsor (overturning provisions of DOMA allowing the federal government to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages performed by states).

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

“No Refusal” Laws: A Perversion of Well Intended Law And A Violation of Personal Liberty

Delaware-lawyer-fights-DUI-Checkpoint-arrests

I received a tip from a friend of mine who does a lot more Reddit browsing than I do that in Texas, this weekend is what’s called a “No Refusal” weekend in Tarrant County, Texas.

What is a “No Refusal” weekend? The tipped-off post, from Reddit user Korietsu (emphasis mine):

Just a warning to those traveling via I-35, 290, and 45. TxDPS and local LE are out in large numbers for No Refusal Weekend and using all of their tools at their disposal. TxDPS will be monitoring via Radar, Helicopter and Laser for all speeding infractions.

There are also sobriety checkpoints, and it is No Refusal Weekend. This means that you can have your blood drawn at mobile testing stations, as judges will be on hand to sign warrants 24/7 this weekend. Don’t drink and drive, and please, if you have been drinking, call a cab.

In short: if, at a sobriety checkpoint, officers feel that a driver is driving under the influence, they can order the suspect to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test. If the driver refuses the blood test, then the police may use a warrant to forcibly seize the blood. On-call judges expedite that process, ostensibly before the suspect can sober up. In addition, refusing the test subjects the suspect to additional penalties under implied consent laws.

The first reaction anyone would have is “come on, that can’t be legal, right?”, but the right to take blood is authorized in Texas law.

1. Texas Transportation Code Section 724.012. TAKING OF SPECIMEN. (a) One or more specimens of a person’s breath or blood may be taken if the person is arrested and at the request of a peace officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person: (1) while intoxicated was operating a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft; or (2) was in violation of Section 106.041, Alcoholic Beverage Code. (b) A peace officer shall require the taking of a specimen of the person’s breath or blood under any of the following circumstances if the officer arrests the person for an offense under Chapter 49, Penal Code, involving the operation of a motor vehicle or a watercraft and the person refuses the officer’s request to submit to the taking of a specimen voluntarily: (1) the person was the operator of a motor vehicle or a watercraft involved in an accident that the officer reasonably believes occurred as a result of the offense and, at the time of the arrest, the officer reasonably believes that as a direct result of the accident: (A) any individual has died or will die; (B) an individual other than the person has suffered serious bodily injury; or (C) an individual other than the person has suffered bodily injury and been transported to a hospital or other medical facility for medical treatment; (2) the offense for which the officer arrests the person is an offense under Section 49.045, Penal Code; or (3) at the time of the arrest, the officer possesses or receives reliable information from a credible source that the person: (A) has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections; or (B) on two or more occasions, has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.04, 49.05, 49.06, or 49.065, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections. (c) The peace officer shall designate the type of specimen to be taken.

In Tarrant County, Texas – which covers Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington – nine no-refusal weekends are funded by various grants by the federal government, which Texas allows to be conducted county-wide. Normally, DUI checkpoints are illegal in Texas. DUI checkpoints themselves have been codified by the Supreme Court of the United States as being legal, per Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz in 1990. Typically speaking, major holidays and major concerts are designated “No Refusal” weekends due to the higher rate of alcohol-related accidents.

I do not dispute the legality or the cause for DUI checkpoints. When motorists take to taxpayer-funded roadways, they acquiesce to the rules of the road, which include laws designated around an acceptable level of blood-alcohol content (BAC). I also am behind additional scrutiny on holiday weekends where drinking – and resulting accidents and fatalities – are increased. This is smart policing, it saves lives, and it’s not a violation of liberty due to the fact that they’re publicly owned roads. I’m not nearly as big of a fan of implied consent laws – which punish a person for simply exerting their Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure – but I believe that battle has been lost.

But the idea that the police can – on mere suspicion – force a person to be tied down, stick a needle in them, and take their blood, against their will is stomach churning. If we don’t have liberty to our own bodies from invasion by the state, unless we have been legally convicted of a crime, what liberty do we, as citizens, have? It is important to note that in this case, no crime has yet been even charged; the blood test is used to prove the crime, it is not taken after the fact. That is a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, which starts to look shambolic when one considers the hits it’s taken over the years due to judicial overreach and milquetoast courts.

Typically, the probate judge’s role would be to supervise this process and ensure that the police have reasonable suspicion of a suspect. However, that process has been made ruthlessly efficient, with many warrants being granted over the phone within a matter of minutes, rendering the whole process meaningless. I would love to see how many warrant requests actually get turned down; I’m willing to bet the number is single digits at best. Who says the government doesn’t move quickly?

Of course, Texas – a state marked by a conservative, independent mindset that so hates government overreach that they frequently threaten to secede from the United States – is perfectly fine with invasions of a person’s individual liberty, even their bodies, when it suits the state’s desires. Texas calls for mandatory transvaginal sonograms for anyone seeking an abortion, despite other, less invasive methods of sonogram being available. They also lead the nation in state sponsored executions by an almost five to one margin. People in Texas seem to be perfectly fine with penetrating citizens with foreign objects when it suits something popular.

That is unacceptable. The American Civil Liberties Union has been fighting this for some time, as should anyone, even those who feel that anything that reduces the number of people driving drunk on the roads is a good thing. We can’t shread the Constitution because it’s popular.

Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.

Ebola: Saving Life As We Know It, But Not You Specifically

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As the first U.S. citizen remains forcibly quarantined over Ebola fears, now seems a good time to revisit the role of government in our lives. Some so-called “conservatives” seem to have undergone a sudden evolution to the position that it is the government’s job to keep us perfectly safe from all risk.

One cannot help but wonder, is this their new position on guns as well?

One person has died in the U.S. from Ebola.

We lose 32,000 times that many every year to guns. Is there no cost too high, no civil liberty that cannot yield, in the quest to defeat that risk?

What about cars?

In 2012, 92 people died every day in automobile accidents. How many civil liberties can be ceded to protect us from death-by-car?

Anyone who thinks there is no cost too high to pay to keep Ebola from tarnishing the pristine lands of America is a statist in sheep’s clothing.

The government’s job is to preserve Life As We Know It. To do that, it does not need to save you, specifically. And it certainly does not so direly need to save you, specifically, that it should declare marshal law and shut down global travel.

In the years since 1976, the U.S. has lost between 3,000 to 49,000 people per year to influenza. By my math, that means we could lose another 48,999 people to Ebola this year and still not suffer much impact to Life As We Know It.

But you know what would impact Life As We Know It?

Massive losses in wealth due to travel bans, “aversion behavior,” quarantines and fear.

For example, Michael J. Casey, writing for the Wall Street Journal reports an interesting study about the effects on the global economy of a flu pandemic:

One study led by U.K economists that modeled the global economic fallout from a hypothetical influenza pandemic predicted only a 0.5% GDP loss from the base effect of the disease itself but up to 8% due to policies intended to mitigate its spread, such as school closures.

Think about it. Tourism to and from Africa ceases. Tourism between the U.S. and the rest of the world slows. Hotel rooms sit empty. Restaurants close early. No one rides the bus or takes taxicabs. A lot of people who would otherwise be working—and spending—are quarantined for weeks at a time. Equity indexes fall. Shares in travel firms dive alongside companies heavily invested in Africa. International financial institutions with interests in the region take a hit. The prices of iron ore and oil rise.

Your job might cease to exist. Your retirement account might be wiped out. The value of your house might plummet.

Is there still no price too high to pay when it is clearer that it will be you who must pay it?

However distasteful it might seem, the government must weigh the lives saved against the cost (in both dollars and civil liberties sacrificed) of saving them. Just like the Federal Reserve has a conflicting dual mandate to maximize employment and keep prices stable, the government has a conflicting dual mandate when it comes to Ebola—to protect us from Ebola and to protect the worldwide economy and our civil liberties from collateral damage in the fight to stop Ebola.

Take heart, gentle lambs.

Just because it is not the government’s job to spare no cost keeping you safe, does not mean you cannot make it your own priority. Disabuse yourself of the notion that only the government exercises any control over the big stuff, the important stuff, the dangerous stuff. You are free, all on your own, to spare no expense keeping yourself safe. Wash your hands more and touch your face less. Drive your car instead of using public transportation. Start prepping.

Stay home from work, like you think all those returning aid workers should.

Well go ahead.

You first.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Hey FCKH8, I Have a Few ‘F-Bombs’ of My Own!

If you thought modern progressive feminists couldn’t be any more childish, you haven’t seen FCKH8’s latest viral video entitled: “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.”

In the video (below), girls aged six to thirteen repeat progressive feminist bromides and talking points along with some F-bombs (as advertised) in an attempt to get this message to go viral (mission accomplished). As expected, the response by many is to be offended by having these ‘princesses’ use such foul language for any reason.

Personally, I think the whole thing is awful. I don’t like it when children are used for any cause foisted on children by adults, regardless of how noble the cause might be. It even turns my stomach a little when I see politicians use their own children in their campaign ads. It’s even more tacky to hear children speak about such things they most likely have no clue about. My daughter is pretty intelligent and the same age as some of these girls but I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even think about the ‘equal pay’ or ‘rape culture.’ Why should she? She’s nine years-old for crying out loud!*

So here’s the full uncensored version. If this is too much for your ears to handle, go here for the censored version.

Now, wasn’t that just precious!

More important than the shock value of elementary shool girls cursing like sailors…are the things these girls saying true? For the most part, no, these are the same old progressive feminist myths repackaged yet again. I’ve already dealt with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ nonsense here and here. You can also read this article 5 Feminist Myths that Will Not Die. I’ll let Julie Borowski take care of the rest as only Julie Borowski can – dropping her own F-bombs (Fact bombs, I should say) without actually cursing.

I have a few other F-bombs about gender disparities progressive feminists almost never bring up (and I’ll do so without exploiting any elementary age children to make my points):

A young man is required by law to sign up for Selective Service by his 18th birthday. In the event Congress decides to reinstate the draft, men exclusively are conscripted to risk life or limb for ‘his country.’ Also, of those who have died in all the U.S. wars (declared and undeclared) since the American Revolution, 99.99% were men. When men’s rights activists say that society has long decided that men are the ‘disposable gender’ this is one example of what they are talking about.

When young girls are circumcised we call it ‘genital mutilation’ and we are rightly scandalized by this barbaric practice. When baby boys have their genitals mutilated, we call it circumcision because either the boy should ‘look like his father’ or because some women prefer their partner to be circumcised. So much for ‘my body, my choice.’ And imagine the outrage if even one man said that because he preferred the look of a woman’s vagina without a clitorous, baby girls should have it removed?

When it comes to parenting and divorce, mothers get custody of the children roughly 84% of the time.

Let’s call this the gender ‘crime/time’ gap. For Similar crimes under similar circumstances, on average women serve 18.51 months vs. 51.52 months for men.

Since 1976, 15 women (2.9% of the executions) have been executed even though women are responsible for 10% of murders. While I am unapologetically opposed to the death penalty, as long as this barbaric practice is part of the system, this punishment should be an equal opportunity punishment without regard to sex, race, religion, economic or political status, or creed.

At least 3 states (California, Tennessee, and Kansas) require men to pay child support to his statutory rapist.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. There is inequality between the genders and both have their challenges. Personally, I would like to look at the individual rather than who is on ‘team penis’ or ‘team vagina.’ But first, we need to elevate the debate above the elementary school playground.

*This isn’t to suggest she isn’t already very opinionated or doesn’t care about important issues. That’s right, my daughter already has an issue she cares deeply about. Her issue: the alarming decline of the ‘big cat’ populations. According to National Geographic, there are as few as 3,000 tigers, 7,500 snow leopards, 10,000 cheetahs, and 30,000 lions left in the wild. I had no idea about this until my daughter started writing out a script she wanted to read over the intercom at her elementary school to collect money to help ‘save the big cats.’ I suggested that she should ask for donations to the local big cat sanctuary for her birthday instead of presents. Would you believe she was actually thrilled with this idea and followed through? I couldn’t be more proud of her. If she wanted to make a viral video about saving the big cats, I might make an exception to my ‘no kids’ rule because this is an issue that she actually cares about.

Affirmative Consent Is the New Sexual Puritanism

California’s new affirmative consent standard for university disciplinary proceedings puts the onus on the accused to prove that consent was “affirmative,” “voluntary,” and “ongoing,” rather than on the accuser to overcome the presumption of innocence. In so doing, it leaves those subject to its purview unclear as to how the standard functions; it institutionalizes assumptions about the fragility of women; and it effectively places entire realms of sexual exploration off limits to adults who happen to be attending university.

UNCLEAR APPLICATION

The chorus of voices defending the law like to write about what sort of sex is acceptable and what sort is not. Amanda Marcotte, for example, assures us that:

The drafters understand, as most of us do when we’re actually having sex, that sometimes sexual consent is nonverbal and that there’s a difference between drunk, consensual sex and someone pushing himself on a woman who is too drunk to resist.

This is a dodge. The issue is not whether most of recognize, in the moment, what nonverbal consent or consensual, drunken sex look like.

The real, and infinitely more difficult, issue is how a university disciplinary body makes an after-the-fact determination in the face of different versions of, or different perceptions about, what occurred. How does it ascertain—in the presence of conflicting stories—whether what happened was drunk, consensual sex or “someone pushing himself on a woman who was too drunk to resist?” How does it decide what possible demonstrations of nonverbal consent are sufficient to excuse the accused from punishment?

The affirmative consent standard does not further the quest for truth where one of the parties is a predatory liar, willing to tell falsehoods in furtherance of a malicious agenda. Nor does it add anything to the process where both parties tell the same story about an encounter that constitutes rape under existing criminal laws and procedures.

Those are not the cases that will be impacted by the new standard. Its target, rather, is those situations where the parties give consistent or reconcilable accounts of an encounter involving mixed signals and ambiguities; and they have divergent perceptions about whether it was meaningfully consensual.

How affirmative consent functions in such cases remains to be seen. Slate’s Amanda Hess, a defender of the law, concedes, “enthusiastic consent is often communicated in body language or knowing looks.” Is the university to determine whether the “knowing look” described by the accused constituted affirmative consent? Must it parse whether the accused elicited a gasp of pleasure versus an exhale of pain?

As Michelle Goldberg, blogging at The Nation, writes:

Now, most of us know what this kind of consent looks like in practice, but as a legal standard, it’s hard to imagine how it would be implemented. Do moans count as consent? How about a nod, or a smile, or meaningful eye contact? If a woman performs oral sex on a man without asking him first, and if he simply lies back and lets her, has she, by the law’s definition, assaulted him?

Thomas MacAulay Millar at the Yes Means Yes blog, does his best to clarify:

There are lots of ways to ask for a yes. If you lean in to kiss someone and they lean in to kiss you back, that’s yes. If you ask someone if they want your cock and they say, “I want your cock,” that’s yes, and if they put their mouth on it, that’s yes, too. If you’re fucking someone and holding them down and you’re both sweating and maybe bruised and you lean in and your hand is on their throat and you say, “can you still say no?” and they say, “yes,” that’s yes. We’re not kids here, right?

It is the last example I find most interesting. In this scenario, the accused (remember, the standard only becomes relevant if one of them ends up accused) leans in and, with his hand on the accuser’s throat, asks a question to confirm that the accuser can still say no. Then, having confirmed the accuser can still say no, the accused deduces from the fact that no has not been uttered, that it is all right to proceed.

How is that different from the old standard in which the absence of “no” was taken to be indicative of consent?

INSTITUTIONALIZES ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THE FRAGILITY OF WOMEN

As noted, the standard does not enhance the quest for truth where one party is a criminal willing lie; the liar merely adjusts the lies to the new standard. Nor does it add anything meaningful where the accused admits conduct constituting rape under existing laws and standards. Rather, it is aimed at situations where one person has negative perceptions of the encounter, either during or after, but for any number of reasons did not effectively communicate non-consent—and the other person says, “I would have stopped if I had known.” It shifts the burden of avoiding the encounter away from the person who did not want it, but failed to say so, and onto the person who wanted it, but failed to ask.

But why?

If accuser cannot be held responsible for making preferences known and demanding they be respected, why does the accused have to shoulder that responsibility?

I suspect the reason has to do with the accuser usually being female and the accused usually being male. Just reading the copious text written in its defense confirms its proponents assume the standard it will function to protect women in their encounters with men:

The new California law will make it harder for men who enjoy having sex with the unwilling to argue that her nonconsent was “ambiguous” in order to escape punishment.

Looking for a woman who said “yes” (or any variation of it, which can be expressed in a variety of ways, both verbal and nonverbal) instead of focusing on whether she said no in exactly the right words will help put the role alcohol plays into focus. It will clear up some of the murky gray areas, such as cases where a woman is too drunk to be articulate in her refusals but not so drunk that she passes out. It will also offer a degree of protection for scared men, because a somewhat intoxicated woman who explicitly asks for sex will have a hard time convincing the courts she hasn’t “demonstrated intent” to bone. It’s an easy way to get more guilty men convicted while offering protection for innocent men.

“I had a friend who was like, ‘I had sex with this guy and I was really uncomfortable—I wish I’d said something,’?” says Trina Bills, a student who graduated last year. “But she didn’t, and so he didn’t know. When she finally told him, he said, ‘You should’ve told me. It would’ve been fine—we just wouldn’t have done anything.’ The communication aspect of this is real. And everyone communicates differently.”

Maybe I am wrong.

Maybe proponents of this standard envision it being used to expel young women from university, after they have expended extraordinary sums to attend, for having an encounter with a wasted male classmate, without pausing to be “Pretty Damn Sure” it was consistent with his sober, higher-order values and preferences. It seems more likely, however, that the standard will be used to revive, institutionalize, and perpetuate the age-old belief—now under new management—that the woman is the fragile partner in any sexual encounter with a man; and that for her, the default position should be no sex, because the consequences of anything less than wholehearted consent are all too terrible.

ELIMINATES SEX DISAPPROVED OF BY THE ORTHODOXY

Proponents will argue that there is no downside to this burden-shifting of responsibility to the higher-power party, of eliminating those sexual encounters where the power differential renders consent ambiguous or uncertain.

In an amazing essay for BookForum called “Fifty Shades of Beige: How E. L. James created an unlikely cottage industry in sanitized s/m,” Kerry Howley writes about French philosopher Georges Bataille’s description of eroticism as:

“[A]ssenting to life up to the point of death,” … about a moment of freedom from the prison of isolated existence, a moment in which an essentially discontinuous body might experience the kind of continuity with the universe we’ll all presumably find when our lives are over. In the erotic we bump up against the possibility of dissolution …

… There is in the erotic that hard jolt of coming undone, the “elemental violence,” as Bataille put it, “which kindles every manifestation of eroticism.” Where we find the erotic we find anarchy, an unraveling, a falling apart, dissolution. We find, as in the work of Sade, Anaïs Nin, and the pseudonymous Pauline Réage, that a sexual frenzy spills readily into savagery.

Howley juxtaposes the narrative arc of Fifty Shades of Grey with the standard commentary on the success of the trilogy. In the book, the female protagonist “cedes control” and “allows a billionaire she doesn’t really know, and suspects is a sadist, to chain her to a wall in his ‘playroom.’” As Howley recognizes, this “not behavior we associate with the ideals of self-preservation and delayed gratification.” Nevertheless:

The model Fifty Shades of Grey think piece…is a defense of the book…though these defenses do not extend to anarchy, or chaos, or ecstasy at all. In the Fifty Shades think piece, the book is a teaching tool, a means of instruction, Our Bodies, Ourselves with a stronger narrative drive.

Fifty Shades, we learn, is a force for “good” because it “gets women talking about sex.” It is good, we learn, because it “encourages a dialogue.” Fifty Shades, insists a panel of experts on The Dr. Oz Show, is an educative tool permitting healthy adult women to express their desires within the realm of companionate heterosexual marriage.

Howley insightfully recognizes that the dissonance, between what occurs in the book and the insistence it must be healthy for women, emanates from the needs of “anxious arbiters of cultural meaning” to “attempt to remove the erotic from the realm of the savage and claim it for civilization.” I see some of the same motivations at play in the debate about affirmative consent. The law functions as an effort by the collective to domesticate sexuality, “claim [it] for civilization,” and ensure it only occurs under carefully constructed circumstances deemed “healthy” by the enlightened.

Not everyone wants to live within those confines; some men and women enjoy life closer to the edge. A substantial number of both, for example, enjoy ravishment fantasies. Some of them live out these fantasies via role-playing in which consent is determined to be ongoing where a safety word is not uttered. This allows a participant to “protest” without bringing the encounter to an end.

Are university students allowed to engage in this type of role-playing? Can “affirmative” consent be proved by the failure to utter a safety word that is nothing more than a mutually agreed upon replacement for the word “no?”

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has posted a very interesting letter from someone claiming to be a recent graduate cataloguing his experiences with “affirmative consent.” The writer claims, for example that, on their second night together, one of his first partners, threw up her hands in disgust:

“How am I supposed to get turned on when you keep asking for permission for everything like a little boy?” She said. “Just take me and fuck me already.”

After repeatedly seeing disappointment in the eyes of his female partners when he did not fulfill the leadership role they wanted him to fill in the bedroom, he learned to take an assertive lead that involved proceeding unless he got a “no” (which included any nonverbal suggestion he was about to cross a line).

It would be easy to dismiss this as a man’s inability to correctly perceive what is really going on with women. But I know women who would agree with everything said in his letter. And who could forget this Best of Craigslist post, which appears to be written by a woman, calling men out for their increasingly beta male approach to sex?

Friedersdorf’s anonymous correspondent further claims to have, more than once, experienced situations where his partners put up “token resistance” that they wanted him to overcome. When Rush Limbaugh said something similar, he was lambasted. But yet again, I have personally known women, mostly of an older generation (but not all), who are most comfortable with a dynamic wherein the woman dutifully resists, thus demonstrating her purity, and then succumbs only after being seduced, thus confirming the man’s prowess.

Do I like that dynamic?

No. I find it grotesque.

But once we accept the proposition that only “healthy” sex deserves defending, the bedroom becomes yet another sanitized, domesticated landscape where people’s—and especially women’s—experiences are carefully managed by the cultural elites; where risks are discouraged; where optimal health is achieved via careful planning; where regrettable sex is forbidden alongside super-sized sodas, trans-fat and incandescent light bulbs; where barriers are erected to prevent us from treading too near the place of dissolution.

And feminism becomes the new Puritanism.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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