The Politics of Sexuality: A Documentary and Reference Guide

The Politics of Sexuality: A Documentary and Reference Guide

The Politics of Sexuality: A Documentary and Reference Guide

The Politics of Sexuality: A Documentary and Reference Guide


Since the landmark 1965 Supreme Court ruling "Griswold" v. "Connecticut" established a Constitutional right to privacy, the regulation of sexuality has become an extremely volatile area of American politics. From reproductive rights to sex education, pornography to gay marriage, the balance between community norms and individual autonomy has been fiercely contested. These and related subjects are often viewed in isolation, as though they were entirely separate issues. Yet as the documentary record makes clear, they are in fact closely interrelated, and their impact is cumulative. By addressing a broad array of topics at the intersection of sexuality and politics, this volume highlights the connections and makes an important contribution to a debate that touches every American.

Taking as a starting point the 1965 "Griswold" decision--sometimes said to have launched the sexual revolution--the approximately 100 primary source documents assembled here either mark watersheds in themselves or are representative of a broad range of political developments. The documents are drawn from all quarters of U.S. political life. They include legislative texts; proposed laws and constitutional amendments; state and federal court rulings; political party platforms; and interest-group position statements.


Perhaps more than any other year, 1965 represents a turning point in the evolution of the United States toward greater acceptance of diversity and individual self-determination. It was in 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was passed to guarantee the electoral franchise to minorities. The year 1965 also marked the time that major immigration and naturalization reforms began the growth of the far more multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial society that we know today. This same year saw the finalization of plans for launching of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the flagship of the feminist movement. It was in 1965 that the first major gay rights demonstrations were held, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. And 1965 was also the year of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut that would shape the next 40 years of the politics of sexuality in the United States.

By 1965, the Supreme Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, had already ordered wide-scale racial desegregation, strengthened freedom of speech and of the press, and enhanced the due-process protections of criminals and the accused. This “rights revolution” arrived in the bedroom through a ruling in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut. The specific controversy itself was not of great consequence: a challenge to a rarely enforced Connecticut law prohibiting married couples from practicing contraception. But the reasoning behind the Griswold ruling would prove to have enormous implications as the first definitive enunciation of a Constitutional right to “privacy” in relation to issues of sexuality and reproduction.

Before this, the government could still claim that it was within its legitimate constitutional authority, in the name of “public morality,” to regulate nearly every aspect of the sexual lives of its citizens. Adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, abortion, and contraception were still crimes punishable by the state. It was thus within the purview of government to specify, under threat of fines and imprisonment, exactly with whom its citizens could and could not be intimately involved and exactly which sexual activities they could or could not perform. Even though such “crimes,” when consensual, were only erratically investigated and prosecuted, the criminal codes nonetheless forced a good deal of natural sexual activity into the shadows and imposed a code of silence in public discourse.


This volume of primary documents on the politics of sexuality takes as its starting point the 1965 Griswold decision, and lays out 62 key primary documents up until the year 2008.

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