I’m Concerned about the First Amendment Defense Act

I’m Concerned about the First Amendment Defense Act January 7, 2017

I know that weird bills occasionally pop up and never get passed, but this one worries me, because it looks like it has a decent amount of support, and it could harm a lot of us who don’t fall under the straight or monogamous umbrella.

Public domain image from 1850 titled, amusingly, A Mormon and his wives dancing to the devil's tune
Public domain image from 1850 titled, amusingly, A Mormon and his wives dancing to the devil’s tune. From Wikimedia Commons.

What does the proposed First Amendment Defense Act actually do? It prohibits “the federal government from taking discriminatory action against a person on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

So basically, the federal government would be powerless to take action (whether punitive financially, or stripping them of accreditation or employment) against people who act on their beliefs about heterosexual marriage being the only legit kind, or about the amount of sex people have outside marriage.

This is obviously bad for all the progress we’ve made in making marriage accessible to all. But it’s also a step toward policing alternative sexualities that go beyond straight and gay. Here I’m thinking specifically of the various forms of non-monogamy, ranging from religious polygamy to secular swinging, polyamory, open relationships, kink/BDSM, and even just “being single and dating around.”

I’ve written about how casual sex doesn’t make you a bad person, and how the communication techniques used in polyamory apply to other relationship models as well. And as I wrote as MySexProfessor.com, current sociological research shows that swingers are psychologically and demographically pretty normal folks. These are some forms of ethical non-monogamy, but let’s recall that unethical non-monogamy (a.k.a. cheating) is also quite prevalent. And sex work, while criminalized, is practiced in many forms as well, ranging from the obviously unethical trafficking to the more consensual forms (as consensual as any kind of work can really be under capitalism, anyway).

The debate about whether people drawn to alternative sexual practices are hardwired for it is ongoing. But this bill could essentially make it okay for federal employees to discriminate against not just LGB people, but also people who practice various forms of non-monogamous or promiscuous behavior/relationships. Plus I don’t really want to reopen a chapter of the past where we punish infidelity as though it’s the same kind of crime as, like, murder. The Puritans did that and it wasn’t pretty.

Maybe this’ll be a much-needed alarm to people who aren’t already being discriminated against (LGBTQ folks), such as cisgender people who happen to also be swingers, or white straight people who practice religious polyamory. Passing privilege may not be enough to save someone. I know that many of the alternative gender and sexual identities make for strange bedfellows, as gender and sexuality are not the same thing despite ignorant assumptions that they are. And yet many of us can be targets, thanks to the desire of religious majorities to impose their morals on everyone.

The good news is, this bill hasn’t yet passed the House; from what I can tell on the site, it’s held up in discussion. Maybe it’ll die there. But hopefully spreading awareness of it now helps.

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