The larger theme of last night's State of the Union address was racial and ethnic bigotry: The president denouncing it, the Republicans sending coded signals of support. That said, Republicans made absolutely sure that the Sex Police did not feel left out, and that those who want to put a hall monitor in every bedroom and a tracking device on everyone's genitals got their chance in the spotlight as well.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan invited a laundry list of guests to the speech, but made sure to use two seats to signal anti-contraception sentiment. Sister Loraine Marie Maguire and Sister Constance Veit are nuns working for the Little Sisters of the Poor, an organization who has earned right-wing accolades for its outrageous efforts to prevent their employees, most of whom work as aides in nursing homes, from getting contraception.
The right-wing media likes to imply that the Little Sisters are being forced by that evil pervert Obama to hand out contraception against their will. In reality, the group is not required to cover contraception in their health care plan. What the nuns are doing is trying to keep their employees from getting contraceptive coverage from someone else.
The Obama administration allows religious organizations like the Little Sisters to opt out of offering health care plans that cover contraception. All the need to do is fill out a form (or write a letter) indicating their objections, and voila — their supposed concerns about being "involved" in the great evil of non-procreative sex are met. Instead, the government will step in and, working with the insurance company, cover the employee's contraception directly, without any involvement from the employer.
But this was never about conscientious objection, but about giving your employer more control over your private medical and sexual decisions. And so the Little Sisters sued to try to prevent their employees from going outside their system to get birth control, by arguing signing the form that will permit employees to get coverage elsewhere is somehow a violation of their religious liberty. So far, their efforts to block employees from getting contraception coverage has performed poorly in the courts, but by inviting them, Ryan signaled his support for the idea that your employer should be allowed not just to deny you contraception through their own health care plan, but to keep you from getting contraception coverage elsewhere.
You have to give it to the Sisters: They really looked the part of the grim-faced nuns here to judge you the sinners for all that premarital sex.
— Kathy Schiffer (@KathySchiffer) January 13, 2016
You can just feel the ruler coming down to rap you on the knuckles for daring to have a condom in your pocket. Competing with the nuns as the evening's representative for frowny-faced prudes was Kim Davis, the notorious county clerk from Kentucky who tried to become a martyr for the anti-gay cause this year. Like the Little Sisters, Davis argues that her "religious freedom" gives her a right to interfere with someone else's right to make private choices for themselves, such as who to marry and whether to give birth. Davis rose to notoriety over the summer when she refused to give same-sex couples in her county the marriage licenses the Supreme Court ruled they were entitled to. Davis presented the perfect figure of a dour-faced religious zealot, with the sternness of her face wiping away any doubt about the mean-spiritedness of her mission.
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) January 13, 2016
Her presence created the strangest controversy after the speech, as Rep. Jim Jordan, whose invite Davis used to get in, denied knowing he invited her. The excuse is that the office had given the invite to the Family Research Council, and they, in turn, forwarded it to Davis.
But, of course, the Family Research Councils exists for no other reason but to be the Sex Police. Its entire existence is predicated on the belief that people they don't want having sex – or getting married — shouldn't be allowed. So is it really any surprise that they'd give their ticket to one of 2015's most prominent champions for the cause?
Rep. Steve King refused to show up at the speech at all, and made a big kerfuffle about the supposed symbolism of not doing so. "I have reserved it to commemorate the lives of more than 55 million aborted babies," he said in a statement.
The gesture was clearly an answer to President Obama leaving a seat open in Michelle Obama's box to commemorate those who have lost their lives to gun violence.
These kind of anti-abortion theatrics have become so common on the right that they mostly pass notice, but it's worth pointing out that this gesture quite literally means that King is implying that actual people who have died in gun violence aren't as important to him as hypothetical people that might have been if a woman chose to give birth instead of choosing not to. And despite the misleading language about "babies" (abortions remove an embryo in most cases and a fetus is only about 11 percent of cases), King tacitly acknowledges in his statement that these are imaginary people he's mourning more than real people, by calling them a "chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world."
Obviously, there's only one real reason to be angrier about people never existing in the first place than about people with actual lives and feelings and families dying, and it goes back to the same reason that Kim Davis and the Little Sisters were in the crowd at the State of the Union. It's all part of the same multi-decade temper tantrum the right is having over the fact that women and gay people are increasingly free to choose how to have sex, who to marry, and how to have children for themselves. And that was represented with the trifecta, there to represent anti-contraception, anti-gay and anti-abortion view, that was on hand last night, a sort of holy trinity of the Junior Anti-Sex League that runs the Republican Party.