What to Do About Our Democracy’s Obsession with Sexuality

Ann Pellegrini and Janet Jakobsen over at The Immanent Frame:

Why is it that sex is such a central part of American political life anyway? Why, when The New York Times reported on the influence of “values” voters on the 2004 Presidential election, did the Times name only two “values,” both of them reflecting a conservative sexual ethic: opposition to abortion and opposition to “recognition of lesbian and gay couples”?

This conflation of values and sexuality is particularly important because the polls on which the claim was based did not name any values, but just asked people to rate values in relation to other issues like the economy. In addition, the number of voters choosing values in this poll had actually fallen from a high point in 1996, when Bill Clinton was re-elected. But, the Times was willing not only to accept and promote the idea that values voters had swung the election, but also to promote the idea that the values these voters cared about were sexual in nature and conservative in force. Although there was subsequent criticism of the Times’s conclusion that voters in 2004 were more concerned with “values” than were voters in previous elections, there was little to no criticism of the presumption that “values” equals “sexuality,” and conservative sexuality at that.

Here, then, is another echo of the concern Taylor raises. The Reformation makes sexuality a matter of intense ethical concern, standing in for—and sometimes even blocking out—other concerns about the ideal moral life, such as whether it should be lived through a commitment to poverty.