The Religious Right is obsessed with blocking birth control, banning abortion, advocating for premarital abstinence, claiming it will stop predators—all while defending and encouraging them.
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore has been exposed as an alleged sexual predator after four women reported having been in a relationship with the former Alabama chief justice when he was in his 30s—one woman was just 14 at the time. The allegations should be shocking: Moore positions himself as a devout, Jesus-embracing, traditional-values Evangelical. But it is these very same characteristics that allowed him to prey on young women without fear of repercussion—and in some cases encouragement. And it’s this knowledge of how commonplace this continues to be that may explain some of the most harmful pieces of the anti-abortion platform of social conservatives.
According to the Washington Post, during Moore’s early legal career he sought out, molested, and in some cases dated, at least four young women between the ages of 14 and 18 while he was in his early 30s. Moore initially denied these claims, although the details of the events have been confirmed by over 30 people. In each of the case Moore was approximately 15 to 18 years older than the teen he was allegedly involved with, and each woman tells as similar story about being entranced with the idea of dating a powerful, older man. Moore eventually married at age 38, to a woman 24 years old—14 years younger than him.
Unsurprisingly, many on the right have gone out of their way to defend Moore. Conservative pundit Sean Hannity argued that the interactions with the teens—none of which involved sexual intercourse, although the 14-year-old claims Moore put her hand on his underwear-clad penis—were primarily consensual, so they shouldn’t have any weight on the election even if they happened to be true. Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler stated that Mary was a teen and married to an adult Joseph when she was impregnated with Jesus, so nothing Moore did was unprecedented (apparently conveniently forgetting that Mary allegedly was and remains a virgin, impregnated not by Joseph but by God). And one Breitbart editor noted that only one of the four alleged relationships was “legally problematic” since the others were “of age” at the time it happened (Alabama’s age of consent is 16).
While a few vulnerable Republican senators or politicians on their way out of office have spoken out against Moore’s alleged acts, still more are standing by their man, even as new witnesses are justifying the veracity of the allegations and Moore himself is confirming some of them. Evangelicals are busier attacking the timing of the news story than questioning whether an adult man who preferred dating teenage girls is fit for public office, and 37 percent are saying they are now more likely to vote for Moore than they were before the story broke.
Their reaction isn’t shocking, and not just because of the obvious need to say anything to keep themselves in power. Among the dominionist, theocratic side of the Evangelical community—of which Moore is a key figure—relationships with teens or relationships between adult men and much younger women are as much a part of the cultural fabric as stay-at-home mothers, homeschooling, and the idea that God’s law trumps man’s.
Moore’s obvious attraction to much, much younger women—as his marriage also suggests, even all four of the allegations do somehow turn out to be fabrications—is being brushed off by many on the right as a sign of an earlier times or southern culture, when women married fresh out of high school and snagging a husband and starting a family was the primary—often only—goal. But it is neither of these, and it certainly isn’t a thing of the past.
Some leading Evangelicals, eager to live their faith outside of the American mainstream, continue to advocate for Biblical, patriarchal living, and see teen brides as the best way to make this happen. Former reality superstar Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty made waves among viewers in 2014 when it came out that he once told a men’s sports ministry that his best advice was to “marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16,” in order to ensure you get a Godly, pure, and obedient wife. Despite the controversy and a brief suspension, the show continued for nearly three more years, and he will now have a new show along with other conservative pundits on a right-wing streaming cable channel. And homeschooling groups offer a conference to help teens mingle and arrange future early marriages as a way to meet like-minded, Christian spouses.
But while these examples appear to be focused on young teens marrying each other, the simple fact of the matter is that among many in this group, it is just as permissible for a teen girl to marry an adult man a decade or more older than she. As Libby Anne, a former Evangelical turned feminist atheist, writes at Patheos, adult men often asked to court teen girls, as the only qualification they need to have in order to be of marriageable material is to be virgins and capable of giving birth. Meanwhile, if it turns out that the older men prey on the teens, well, it is very likely the fault of the teen for being so tempting, and the man’s only flaw was being too weak to resist. Libby Anne gives the example of a 14-year-old Natalie, approached by a 24-year-old man telling her parents he would be interested in marrying her. The parents agreed to consider it when she was 18, not knowing that he then spent much of the next few years sexually assaulting her and threatening her in order to hide the abuse.
“When Natalie finally got up the courage to go to her parents—Jamin had used threats to keep her silent—they reported the crime and prosecuted Jamin,” she writes. “Her community, meanwhile, turned against her. There was no abuse, they said. The entire sordid affair was a consensual relationship that she had kept hidden from her parents. She, 14. Him, 24.”
And maybe that helps to explain exactly why the right remains so utterly and consistently adamant in their refusal to accept birth control or abortion as options for women, especially those under the age of 18. In a culture where men—especially adult men—have so much power over younger women, opposition to both birth control and abortion operate as a fail-safe meant to keep men strong in the face of weakness and temptation.
After all, how often have conservatives pointed to birth control as a way of masking inappropriate sexual relationships outside of wedded unions? That allowing single people contraception takes away society’s right to “shame” those who have unmarried sex – which they can identify by pregnant, unmarried women and girls. Or argued that allowing minors access to an abortion without parental consent hides the acts of pedophiles and sexual predators, where as making those teen girls give birth “frees them” from their rapists?
The Religious right has been and continues to be obsessed with “Christian values”—blocking birth control, banning abortion, advocating for abstinence until eventual traditional marriage—claiming a return to these values will stop predators, pedophiles, and other sexual deviants from harming vulnerable women and girls. But more and more it appears that the biggest threat to young women and girls are those who are championing these traditional values to begin with. Perhaps the reason they really see threats everywhere is because they know exactly how common they are—because they are the ones committing them.
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