Sex and the Constitution by Geoffrey R. Stone
Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century

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The book’s strength—and weakness—is that it is a grand look back, not a look forward. Remarkably, in our 21st century world, Stone does not recognize that technology plays a critical role in sexual culture—pushing sex forward, with the law struggling to catch up.
-NY Journal of Books

Synopsis

There has never been a book like Sex and the Constitution, a one-volume history that chapter after chapter overturns popular shibboleths, while dramatically narrating the epic story of how sex came to be legislated in America.

Beginning his volume in the ancient and medieval worlds, Geoffrey R. Stone demonstrates how the Founding Fathers, deeply influenced by their philosophical forebears, saw traditional Christianity as an impediment to the pursuit of happiness and to the quest for human progress. Acutely aware of the need to separate politics from the divisive forces of religion, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution that expressed the fundamental values of the Enlightenment.

Although the Second Great Awakening later came to define America through the lens of evangelical Christianity, nineteenth-century Americans continued to view sex as a matter of private concern, so much so that sexual expression and information about contraception circulated freely, abortions before “quickening” remained legal, and prosecutions for sodomy were almost nonexistent.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reversed such tolerance, however, as charismatic spiritual leaders and barnstorming politicians rejected the values of our nation’s founders. Spurred on by Anthony Comstock, America’s most feared enforcer of morality, new laws were enacted banning pornography, contraception, and abortion, with Comstock proposing that the word “unclean” be branded on the foreheads of homosexuals. Women increasingly lost control of their bodies, and birth control advocates, like Margaret Sanger, were imprisoned for advocating their beliefs. In this new world, abortions were for the first time relegated to dank and dangerous back rooms.

The twentieth century gradually saw the emergence of bitter divisions over issues of sexual “morality” and sexual freedom. Fiercely determined organizations and individuals on both the right and the left wrestled in the domains of politics, religion, public opinion, and the courts to win over the soul of the nation. With its stirring portrayals of Supreme Court justices, Sex and the Constitution reads like a dramatic gazette of the critical cases they decided, ranging from Griswold v. Connecticut (contraception), to Roe v. Wade (abortion), to Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage), with Stone providing vivid historical context to the decisions that have come to define who we are as a nation.

Now, though, after the 2016 presidential election, we seem to have taken a huge step backward, with the progress of the last half century suddenly imperiled. No one can predict the extent to which constitutional decisions safeguarding our personal freedoms might soon be eroded, but Sex and the Constitution is more vital now than ever before.

50 photographs
 

About Geoffrey R. Stone

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Geoffrey R. Stone is Harry Kalven, Jr. Distinguished Service Professor of Law and former dean at the University of Chicago Law School. His recent book, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism(2004), received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for 2005, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for 2004 as the Best Book in History, and was chosen as one of The New York Times "100 Notable Books of the Year" in 2004.
 
Published March 21, 2017 by Liveright. 704 pages
Genres: Law & Philosophy, Gay & Lesbian, History, Political & Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Sex and the Constitution
All: 2 | Positive: 1 | Negative: 1

NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by David Rosen on Apr 11 2017

The book’s strength—and weakness—is that it is a grand look back, not a look forward. Remarkably, in our 21st century world, Stone does not recognize that technology plays a critical role in sexual culture—pushing sex forward, with the law struggling to catch up.

Read Full Review of Sex and the Constitution: Sex... | See more reviews from NY Journal of Books

NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Kinsley on Mar 31 2017

Stone is easily distracted, and will brake for a good anecdote, whether or not it has anything to do with sex or the Constitution. His book takes off, though, when we approach the present.

Read Full Review of Sex and the Constitution: Sex... | See more reviews from NY Times

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