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Op-Ed

Blame it on the pill

The sexual revolution sparked a counterrevolution that contorts American politics, and confounds the majority, to this day.

March 04, 2012|By Nancy L. Cohen

Never mind that statistical studies done by, among others, sociologists Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza show that to the extent the so-called Reagan Democrats — Northern blue-collar white men — voted Republican, they based their vote on the economy and social welfare policies, not on gays and abortion. Indeed, many held progressive social views, which caused them to vote less Republican. In fact, in 1992, according to Emory University's Alan Abramowitz, who studies party alignment, 1 out of 6 of such voters defected from the GOP because of its extreme antiabortion position.

The Democrats are the more progressive party on social issues, to be sure, but the fear of a largely mythic conservative Everyman doesn't dissipate. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed 63% support for insurance coverage for birth control, and yet the Obama administration had backed away from its initial ruling on the subject. That the president is still "evolving" on gay marriage is another testament to the persistent influence of the Democrats' own sexual counterrevolution.

All this matters not just for its contribution to the nation's political dysfunction but also because of the toll it has exacted on millions of Americans.

One out of two of us lives in a community where it is legal to fire a woman because she is a lesbian, or to refuse to rent a house to a man because he is gay. The Defense of Marriage Act denies married gay couples the economic benefits our government bestows on married straight couples. Women make 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, and only 18 Fortune 500 companies are run by women, a gap many experts attribute more to the lack of public support for mothers in the workforce than to gender discrimination in the boardroom. The U.S. is one of only nine nations that doesn't provide universal paid maternity leave.

The sexual counterrevolution represents a minority view in American democracy. Today, a solid majority of Americans support abortion rights, gay civil rights and other socially liberal positions; by a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 margin, Americans oppose the extreme positions staked out by the right-wing sexual counterrevolutionaries on abortion and gay civil rights. Even on gay marriage, the balance has shifted toward more liberty and acceptance.

The counterrevolutionaries discovered early on that the American political system offers many ways around public opinion — delay and obstruction can hold back or nibble away at policies the majority desires.

As for the Americans denied opportunity and equality by the sexual counterrevolution, and for the majority that doesn't want to go backward on civil rights and personal liberty, don't expect unconditional surrender.

The culture war lives on, and will until the sexual counterrevolution ends.

Nancy L. Cohen is the author of "Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America."

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