My religion encourages oral sex.

Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.

Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?

Cuccinelli for Governor: Because oral sex sucks!
Image courtesy of the blogger’s partner (in crime, apparently). If you copy, please link back.

Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.

This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.

The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.

Cuccinelli basically says that the law won’t be used to prosecute adults doing what they want. But there’s no reason to believe him. That’s exactly what the law says, and in the law, you live and die (or convict and set free) based on what the law actually, very specifically, says. What kind of prosecutor argues that on the one hand, he desperately must have a law that criminalizes a wide range of behavior, but then promises that on the other hand he won’t prosecute what the law says, even when that’s what he’s actually doing? Not to mention, what kind of fiscal conservative says that it’s vitally important to spend precious government time and money to defend laws that have already been declared unconstitutional?

The homophobic kind, that’s who.

From Think Progress:

In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.

In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.

This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.

His culture-warrior stance runs a lot deeper than just oral sex. He’s been using his current office to move heaven and earth to restrict reproductive health rights in Virginia. In addition, his running running mate is one EW Jackson, a Christian pastor, whose aggressively anti-non-Christian attitudes and comments have been covered quite seriously at the Wild Hunt and with an appropriately large dash of sarcasm at Wonkette.

And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.

Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)

The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.

In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.

I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.

Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.

Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:

People – consent – love – and pleasure

If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.

PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.

ETA: Think Progress also gives an example of a sheriff’s department in Louisiana enforcing a similar “anti-sodomy” statute which is equally unconstitutional and hence unenforceable. This proves that “unenforceable” does not prevent officers from arresting and detaining people. I don’t know the details of how arrest records work, but they may be different from court records. Certainly the news often reports that people were arrested on offenses in the past, and job applications may ask if the applicant has been arrested, not just about convictions. I hope I don’t have to spell out all the implications.

10 thoughts on “Cuccinelli v All Acts of Love And Pleasure

    1. It actually took me all weekend to write this becuase I would start thinking about it again and lose my words. Sometimes it was because I wanted to throw things, and sometimes it was because I wanted to laugh, and sometimes it was because I decided to spend time with my partner in crime instead, as the best response, but none of it was making the words work.

      On Jul 22, 2013, at 9:55 PM, Works of Literata

  1. …Wow. There are some powerful people out there with some truly disturbing ideas about what a lawmaking position entitles you to do.

    Out of interest, and if it’s not a derail: you say “This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles…”

    Does that mean your religion opposes, say, vibrators, fleshlights, Realdolls, creative use of the showerhead (purposefully including a range of male- and female-tending implements at varying levels of vanilla or creepiness) on the grounds that none of these can engage in love and pleasure? Or is Wicca pro sex toys as well, on the grounds that ‘love and pleasure’ don’t apply to inanimate objects?

    1. That’s not a derail – that’s a good point!

      I was trying to respond to the “slippery slope” argument that allowing “bad” sex will legalize bestiality. (Another part of the law under discussion was, in fact, about bestiality, which further demonstrates the kind of thinking at work originally.) Politicians making this argument have specifically mentioned dogs and box turtles, either in the context of sex, or marriage, or both. I included lampposts as a slightly more ridiculous example, and in true comedic form, it would have been third, not first, in that list.

      But no, I see a specific difference between animals and inanimate objects. Neither can consent, of course, but the ability to experience pain and displeasure matters significantly. Therefore one cannot engage in “acts of love and pleasure” with a box turtle because the box turtle is unable to consent but can experience pain and displeasure. Since we don’t know, we err on the side of caution – and that means consent. People who say that they can know the deepest desires of their box turtle, and therefore active consent on the box turtle’s part is not required, are just as bad as people who say they can know the deepest desires of another human who is incapable of giving consent or actively denying them – they are abusers and rapists.

      Objects that cannot experience the interaction don’t get consent. So the only “love and pleasure” that matters is your own – go for it!

      Actually, I may or may not have concerns about certain kinds of uses of those things, especially dolls and other things that contribute to the objectification of real persons, but they’re not inherently wrong the way “This is my spouse the box turtle” is, and if you’re doing it with your own private lamppost, then I’m definitely not going into any one else’s bedroom to regulate that.

  2. Excellent, excellent piece.

    Question of style and choices: Why the emphasis on oral sex? Because it’s the thing that would most affect you personally, or to make it more relatable for a general audience, since most people of every orientation enjoy it?

    1. Thank you!

      Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: It’s easier to make fun of someone who insists that oral sex is civilization-endangeringly wrong. Express that, show how that is the motivating cause behind this issue, and more people will realize that anal sex is also “okay” by the same standards, whether or not they themselves enjoy it.

  3. It is terrifying that some people might vote for him because of this.

    Prosecutors decide not to prosecute all the time, because the offence is insufficiently serious to justify it; but to create a statute where any police officer, on a whim, might go after random people is oppressive.

    Going back to the situation where the gay couple had to make up the bed in the spare room before reporting a burglary….

    1. I agree: deciding not to prosecute is one thing; arguing that they should have this law available, but you can trust them because they’re good people and they promise only to use it against the bad people is….wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to unpack.

      Even if something’s unconstitutional, and the court case will fail, you do not want to be subject to being questioned, or worse yet, taken to court.

      Today it’s more like make up the bed, hide the lube, put away the sex toys, oh, and that one over there too…

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