Media Update – July 11, 2003

1. Trial puts obscenity standards to the test
2. Beyond Gay Marriage: The road to polyamory

1. Trial puts obscenity standards to the test
2. Beyond Gay Marriage: The road to polyamory

Trial puts obscenity standards to the test
By Toni Heinzl
Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX)
July 27, 2003

In one videotape, a group of men is shown sexually assaulting a woman and pouring hot candle wax over her body. Terri Moore, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Worth, remembers watching the tape when she reviewed evidence in the initial investigation of a Dallas police officer accused of selling rape videos via the Internet.

An attorney for Garry Ragsdale does not deny that his client sold the tapes through a Web site. But he argues that people have a First Amendment right to watch such tapes, and that his client was simply selling them. Legal experts say their trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 8, will test the boundaries of free speech, helping define what constitutes legal pornography and illegal obscenity in Dallas.

On a larger scale, the case illustrates Attorney General John Ashcroft's vow to beef up Justice Department efforts to target obscenity. In the past 10 years, the Justice Department has focused resources on child pornographers or pedophiles who prowl Internet chat rooms looking for children to molest. Ashcroft is adding resources to combat adult material.

Ashcroft also changed a policy that required prosecutors from the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to seek approval from a local U.S. attorney before filing obscenity cases. Now, these specialized prosecutors in Washington can pursue obscenity cases after simply notifying local U.S. attorneys, though they are encouraged to cooperate with their local colleagues. The section now has a staff of 50.

To the dismay of Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media in New York, federal obscenity prosecutions have declined from a peak of 80 in 1989, during the first Bush administration, to six in 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration.

"The media does not understand how pornography contributes to sexual crimes and the breakdown of the family," he said. [cont.]

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Beyond Gay Marriage: The road to polyamory
by Stanley Kurtz
The Weekly Standard
August 4-11, 2003

After gay marriage, what will become of marriage itself? Will same-sex matrimony extend marriage's stabilizing effects to homosexuals? Will gay marriage undermine family life? A lot is riding on the answers to these questions. But the media's reflexive labeling of doubts about gay marriage as homophobia has made it almost impossible to debate the social effects of this reform. Now with the Supreme Court's ringing affirmation of sexual liberty in Lawrence v. Texas, that debate is unavoidable.

Among the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down a slippery slope to legalized polygamy and "polyamory" (group marriage). Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female. A scare scenario? Hardly. The bottom of this slope is visible from where we stand. Advocacy of legalized polygamy is growing. A network of grass-roots organizations seeking legal recognition for group marriage already exists. The cause of legalized group marriage is championed by a powerful faction of family law specialists. Influential legal bodies in both the United States and Canada have presented radical programs of marital reform. Some of these quasi-governmental proposals go so far as to suggest the abolition of marriage. The ideas behind this movement have already achieved surprising influence with a prominent American politician.

America's new, souped-up version of polygamy is called "polyamory." Polyamorists trace their descent from the anti-monogamy movements of the sixties and seventies–everything from hippie communes, to the support groups that grew up around Robert Rimmer's 1966 novel "The Harrad Experiment," to the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Polyamorists proselytize for "responsible non-monogamy"–open, loving, and stable sexual relationships among more than two people. The modern polyamory movement took off in the mid-nineties–partly because of the growth of the Internet (with its confidentiality), but also in parallel to, and inspired by, the rising gay marriage movement.

Supposedly, polyamory is not a synonym for promiscuity. In practice, though, there is a continuum between polyamory and "swinging." Swinging couples dally with multiple sexual partners while intentionally avoiding emotional entanglements. Polyamorists, in contrast, try to establish stable emotional ties among a sexually connected group. Although the subcultures of swinging and polyamory are recognizably different, many individuals move freely between them. And since polyamorous group marriages can be sexually closed or open, it's often tough to draw a line between polyamory and swinging. Here, then, is the modern American version of Nigeria's extramarital polygamous promiscuity. Once the principles of monogamous companionate marriage are breached, even for supposedly stable and committed sexual groups, the slide toward full-fledged promiscuity is difficult to halt.

Polyamorists are enthusiastic proponents of same-sex marriage. Obviously, any attempt to restrict marriage to a single man and woman would prevent the legalization of polyamory. After passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, an article appeared in Loving More, the flagship magazine of the polyamory movement, calling for the creation of a polyamorist rights movement modeled on the movement for gay rights. The piece was published under the pen name Joy Singer, identified as the graduate of a "top ten law school" and a political organizer and public official in California for the previous two decades. [cont.]

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