A bunch of old rich men split up into a few teams. They argue about how each team believes that everyone in general should be forced to live their lives. They attempt to coerce the public at large to conform to their personal opinions about life via rules and regulations, also known as laws. Ahh, politics. One century we’re wasting our time arguing over prohibition, and almost 100 years later have moved onto Marijuana legalization. It seems like we’ve moved from one ignorant waste of time to another, but there are some controversial issues which remain the source of arguments, law making and breaking, and even violence after decades:
Since 1821, women have been fighting for the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Whether it be due to financial inability to care for a child, the desire to terminate a pregnancy resulting from rape, or health reasons, many believe that a woman should be able to choose (within a reasonable time period after conception) whether or not to bring a baby to term.
Others disagree. In 1821, America’s first statutory abortion regulation was enacted in Connecticut. In 1856, when most states deemed abortion either legal or a misdemeanor, Dr. Horatio Storer lobbied to end legal abortion entirely.
Today in 2012, the last abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi was almost shut down due to new laws which require abortion-clinic physicians to obtain admitting privileges. The law, a backhanded way to allow the health department to effectively ban abortions in the state, was temporarily blocked until July 11, 2012, when a new hearing will take place. Since admitting privileges can be hard to obtain, the legal argument against this mandate is that it was designed to put abortion clinics out of business — a clear motive behind it all.
In Michigan, women’s rights groups are outraged over anti-abortion legislation that has reached the House floor. Further controversy arose when two female representatives, State Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum, were banned from speaking at a debate over the new law for mentioning the word “vagina.”
The struggle between pro-life and pro-choice arguments reaches as high as presidency — while current president Barack Obama is pro-choice, Republican candidate Mitt Romney is very much against it.
Substance use and abuse has been an oscillating issue since the 1800s, when cocaine was used as a painkiller in over-the-counter medications in the 1880s and legal forms of recreational opium use reached an all-time high in 1830. Back then, taxes (namely trying to avoid paying them) was the biggest political issue surrounding substance use and abuse. Today, it’s more about deciding what’s okay to consume and what isn’t — and further, under what circumstances.
Cocaine wasn’t banned in the US until 1914, after research discovered that cocaine caused nasal damage and cocaine-related fatalities increased to 5,000 in a single year. Today, legislators are moving to ban bath salts and synthetic marijuana in every state, two relatively new lab-engineered drugs which are only now being discovered to have extremely harmful side effects.
Prohibition banned alcohol in America for 13 years, until overwhelming opposition to the law and an excessive amount of illegal and untaxed alcohol trading forced a repeal. More of a monetary issue (namely, the government wanting more), the country faces the same problems regarding marijuana legalization. Once lambasted as an evil gateway drug, (medical) marijuana is now legal in 17 states and pending legalization in 6 others.
The pattern of substance-related laws in America seems to be as follows:
- Drug is discovered.
- New drug is legal.
- Harmful side effects of drug are made apparent or controversy surrounds taxation and government benefits from keeping the drug legal
- Drug is outlawed
- Decades-long fights ensue
A lot of people are afraid of pornography. They’re so afraid, not only do they want to pretend that they dislike the stuff — but they want to prevent everyone else from liking and watching it, too. Rick Santorum is the latest politician to lobby against pornography. He states:
America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography. A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences. […] Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking.
Brain damage seems a little extreme because it’s a total exaggeration. Santorum twists the words of a study which discovers that porn can be addictive (mostly to those who already have addictive personalities) and can shrink the frontal lobe in the brains of serious pornography addicts.
Making the wildly inaccurate and vague claim that “porn causes brain damage” is not a new tactic, however. Many petitions against porn have existed for years, many containing just as delusional rhetoric. Some even claim that the path to a crimeless society filled with happy and wholesome citizens begin with banning pornography.
In the early 1950s, porn in theaters was virtually unheard of. The film industry had banned even mentioning abortion, drugs, and prostitution. The first Hollywood feature to show full frontal nudity didn’t come out until 1965′s “The Pawnbroker.
While pornography has remained legal, those fighting against it have often hid behind obscenity laws to do so. Obscenity cases related to pornography and films containing nudity and sexual content have existed since the 60s — from the controversy surrounding the Les Amants (The Lovers) case to hardcore porn director Max Hardcore’s four year prison sentence for his “extreme shock porn” in 2007-2009. Additionally, internet providers Cisco has recently outlawed porn on home routers.
Some people are so enthusiastic about their own opinions, they think that others shouldn’t have any at all. The tug-o-war over free speech and the definition of it has raged since the early 1700s, when NY newspaper owner John Peter Zenger was acquitted on charged of seditious libel after publishing criticisms of New York’s colonial governor.
Schenck, Abrams, and Gitlow all went up against the United States in cases that disputed what constituted free speech about a hundred years after the first amendment was ratified. Although the Declaration of Independence states that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government,” the Smith Act of 1940 made it illegal to verbalize or print the advocation of desirability or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government in the United States. If we can’t even define what constitutes free speech, how can that right be protected?
There are still many legal battles over what does and doesn’t constitute free speech. Pro-lifers file a free speech lawsuit after police tell them they aren’t allowed to hold their signs at a rally. Controversial political bloggers have been silenced on multiple occasions due to their “whistle blowing,” and publishers, librarians, booksellers, and authors are currently fighting against a government claim that the right of free speech can have exceptions based on the content’s “value.”
The country’s earliest known gay rights organization, The Society for Human Rights, was formed in 1924 when sodomy was still illegal and punishable by law in every state. 20 years earlier, the first recorded raid on a gay bathhouse was executed, resulting in the trial of 12 men for sodomy charges.
Sodomy remained illegal until 1962, when Illinois became the first and only state to remove consensual sodomy from its criminal code. By 2002, 36 states had done away with their sodomy laws — some voluntarily, others forced by court decisions.
Although homosexuality has been documented worldwide as an involuntary and inherent sexual preference for thousands of years, many Americans are still stuck on the idea that Jesus wants them to try and eradicate homosexuality, or at least sweep it under the rug with embarrassment and disdain.
Today, only against gay marriage, making extreme, outlandish claims such as “gay marriage ruins the sanctity of marriage” and “gay marriage teaches kids that they should all be homosexual.” Ironically, many of these anti-gay politicians have been caught engaging in secret homosexual relationships.
Although sodomy laws have been struck down in all 50 states, the struggle for gay rights continues. Gay couples are often persecuted, and otherwise have to fight for abilities many others take for granted — adopting children, getting married, and even fighting to merely obtain a fitness center family pass for a family with homosexual parents.