The Penis+Vagina Monologues

Mollie Hemingway, in a fevered jeremiad against the press, accuses reporters of “media malpractice”* for describing Arizona’s SB 1062, vetoed Wednesday night by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, as anti-gay. 

At the heart of Hemingway’s complaint is her accusation that reporters don’t really care about religious liberty like they care about a free press and free speech. In fact, she writes, “we have a press that loathes and works actively to suppress this religious liberty.”*  She claims that reporters “are ignorant of natural rights, history, religion and basic civility.”* That, she maintains, is why they cavalierly dispensed with journalistic integrity as they reported on SB 1062. 

Hemingway insists that SB 1062 was a “broad religious liberty bill” that was “renamed by a juvenile and nakedly activist press as ‘anti-gay.’”* Given that the bill’s sponsor and supporters have admitted that they were prompted to act by the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision in the Elane Photography case—where the court ruled that a photographer violated that state’s human rights act by refusing service to a lesbian couple—it seems difficult to conclude that there could be a better description of it. And given that the bill’s supporters couldn’t come up with a single example of how religious liberty had been infringed upon in Arizona so as to require some additional protection of religious liberty rights, it seems that calling it a religious liberty bill was actually the inaccurate descriptor. After all, Arizona already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act; SB 1062′s supporters even described it as a way of closing that statute’s alleged “loopholes.”

What’s more, since Arizona, unlike its neighbor New Mexico, doesn’t recognize sexual orientation as a protected class in its anti-discrimination laws, all the photographers and bakers and everyone else in Arizona were already perfectly free to turn LGBT people away without legal consequences. In that sense, sure, SB 1062 wasn’t anti-gay, it was double-anti-gay because its sponsors clearly thought the state’s already discriminatory laws were insufficient to protect against the stampede of gay people demanding that business owners engage in the ordinary course of commercial activity with them.

Hemingway’s screed is revealing not just of how she is rending her proverbial garments over the future of the nation (“how long can the Republic stand? Does anyone even care?” are her concluding words). It’s clear that her main complaint is what she sees as the media’s complicity in modernity, which, to her, is itself evidence of their journalistic misconduct.

As proof of the “nakedly activist press,”* she argues that the words religious liberty, in describing bills like 1062, get put in “scare quotes.”* (Perhaps they’re not scare quotes, but just, you know, quotes, so that it’s clear that someone, but not everyone, believes those words accurately describe the bill’s purpose.) Similarly, Hemingway is upset that the words same-sex marriage similarly do not get put in scare quotes, which, to her, is proof that the press accepts same-sex marriage as something that’s good, and sees religious liberty as something that’s bad. She continues:

Or take marriage, which natural marriage supporters believe is a euphemism, more or less, for “penis+vagina=elaborate consequences.” So for them, “same-sex marriage” is an ontological impossibility, or at the very least an issue on which some thought should go into the consequences of redefining that equation. After the media malpractice on this issue, one wonders if we’ve been fully brainwashed away from even understanding this topic in any way. Basically, some people, known colloquially as “all people throughout all space and time in all religions and lands until 15 minutes ago,” believed that marriage was a nice way of saying “men and women are different and complementary and this is the way we organize their relationship in all its complexity, including all the norms and benefits and dangers that occur when a penis enters a vagina.” Marriage used to be the way we said that, more or less. And the penis and vagina parts are actually key to this entire shebang. See: human history. Or, if you are in any way confused about this, ponder how your own existence came about. Hint: penis and vagina. In any event, it’s easier to remove scare quotes, adopt the language, and hunt down and vilify all those who disagree.

Hemingway seems unduly fixated on the penis+vagina part of this equation, and I’m honestly not really sure what she means by “elaborate consequences” and “this entire shebang” (which, upon reflection, she should have concluded was a poor word choice, under the circumstances). Is she talking sperm+egg? Multiple orgasms? Or God’s blessings, with all the attendant societal exceptionalism?

Speaking of ontology, it’s telling that words she’s omitted from her homage to complementary marriage include love, commitment, partnership, affection, companionship, or even, if you want to get down and dirty (but not in an exclusively penis+vagina way) a married filing jointly tax return, hospital visitation, and inheritance laws. All these things are not just ontologically possible and desirable, they are also increasingly legal. So, when you think about it, it would be journalistic malpractice to pretend that they’re not.

*Not a scare quote, but an actual quote.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email

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