Now you can read us on your iPhone and iPad! Check out the BTRtoday app.
Upon the news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on February 13th, the world went into a frenzy, not about his passing but rather who would take his place. The talk quickly shifted from who President Obama might tap to replace Scalia to whether or not a Republican controlled Congress would ever approve the hypothetical nominee.
For others, however, Scalia’s death represented the end of a three-decade long era of terror and oppression against sexual and bodily freedom that the conservative justice had championed from his Supreme Court seat. Liberal media personalities and publications were quick to lampoon Scalia, from The Onion to Keith Olbermann to famed sex advice columnist and author Dan Savage.
“There’s the old definition of conservative, someone who stands athwart history screaming ‘stop,’” Savage tells BTRtoday, “and Justice Scalia, judicially, is the justice who stood athwart people’s right to control their own sex lives and to enjoy themselves and pursue pleasure, yelling ‘stop.’”
For years, Scalia took constitutionally conservative stances on social issues such as affirmative action and healthcare. A famous quote of his in respect to gay rights during a lecture at Princeton in 2012 argued that he had a right to have a moral standing on homosexuality.
“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?” Scalia asked in response to a question. “Can we have it against other things? I don’t apologize for the things I raise.”
He likened the moral disapproval of homosexuality to that of murder or polygamy, explaining that to dismantle a law based on illegitimate intrusion of personal “moral” conducts is to shatter the foundation of a history of other “moral legislations” that have been built upon that precedence.
In 2003, he opposed the decision to find anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional explaining that to eliminate a law on the grounds of the judicial system not taking part in the private/personal moral lives of people effectively puts into question all moral legislations that exist.
He quotes the Texas statute in his dissent; “saying that the law ‘furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual’…This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation.”
The precise sexual acts of a sodomy law are rarely detailed in law, but are understood as criminal behavior. The courts deem these various sexual acts as “unnatural” or immoral.
“It’s important to remember that his opposition to sexual freedom impacted not just gays and lesbians, but heterosexuals too,” Savage says. “There are a lot of straight people who think sodomy is gay sex, but sodomy is anything that is non-reproductive. Oral sex between opposite sex partners is sodomy.”
In the days following Scalia’s death, Savage spoke about the deceased justice on his podcast. When a reader at the live show suggested Scalia’s name be used as a universal safe word for bondage & dominance (BDSM) sex play, he immediately thought of it as a fitting tribute.
The popular phenomenon of the 2011 novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” brought the whips and ball gags of BDSM into main stream spotlight, but it is more than that. BDSM is a natural form of sexual play that revolves around the arousal created by power exchange. Safe words are an important role in creating a boundary within it, bringing an immediate stop to the current action and making sure dominant players don’t go too far and submissive players aren’t harmed.
“It just seemed like an appropriate way to memorialize him. When you use a safe word in a BDSM context, what you’re saying is whatever’s happening has to stop,” Savage says. “You would think that Scalia, if he was out there observing, would appreciate this because he didn’t want any of it to start in the first place.”
The movement to turn Scalia’s name into a safe word started as a joke, but gained steam when a bevy of conservative tweeters and online publications expressed their outrage. Savage hasn’t created a website or started a campaign for the effort—as he did with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in 2004—but believes the indignation from conservative circles makes the Scalia treatment even more enjoyable.
“It makes it all that much more attractive to use Scalia as a safe word, because not only would it be an effective one, but it would tick off all the right people,” he says.
Those in conservative circles might argue that injecting Scalia’s name into BDSM culture is politicizing sex—an argument that Savage views as completely hypocritical, given the nature of conservative political stances on gay and reproductive rights.
“It’s political and social conservatives who are attacking gay, lesbian, bi and trans people in state legislatures and governor’s mansions all across this country. It’s conservatives that want to regulate women’s reproductive choices,” Savage says.
According to Savage, a political party should not be shocked by the backlash of a community promoting sexual freedoms after working so relentlessly to regulate and control people’s sexual expression and reproductive choices.
Clinical sexologist and BDSM expert Dr. Stephanie Hunter Jones believes there’s a hidden hypocrisy behind the safe word that would ultimately stop it from becoming universal.
“I think people would be very surprised, but there are a lot of conservatives out there that are into BDSM,” Jones tells BTRtoday, “so I’m not sure they would find that very amusing.”
Though there’s no definitive explanation as to why, the conservative presence within BDSM and other kinks is prominent, according to Jones. It may seem surprising due to the public images on traditional, wholesome values most conservatives try to maintain.
“No one’s going to think you’re kinky or not monogamous if you’re the most family values, conservative elected official in the world,” Savage explains. “The people who attract attention to their morality and purity are often the ones who have something going on that’s not so moral and pure, by their own standards.”
That discretion has marginalized BDSM and other kink communities, breaking down what Jones believes is the most important aspect of any kind of sex play—communication.
“We’re taught in our society in regards to any form of sexuality not to communicate, and it’s so important that we start opening up the pathway of communication,” Jones says.
Ironically enough, it’s the group most publicly against the openness of these issues that continuously advances it, according to Savage.
Savage believes the conservative action against same-sex marriage is what ultimately led to its legalization, and that other forms of social progress can be reached through battling back against those who wish to oppress people’s sexual freedom.
“It’s fun to watch social conservatives who would like to shut all those conversations down help to drive and generate those conversations,” he says. “Their outrage … is part of the normalization process.
“They’re helping move the needle in a progressive direction whether they realize it or not.”