Walter Olson, who runs a terrific website about litigation abuse, sends me some info and commentary about the latest salvo in the culture war from the Bush administration:
According to online reports, the Bush administration in January issued regulations redefining "abstinence" in federal educational programs to mean avoidance of sex at any age whatsoever except within the framework of conventional heterosexual marriage. Loads of tax dollars will now be spent in American classrooms to enforce the message that gays and unmarried heterosexuals, no matter how ripe in age, should never have sex at all, no matter how monogamous. To quote the regs:
Abstinence curricula must have a clear definition of sexual abstinence which must be consistent with the following: "Abstinence means voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage. Sexual activity refers to any type of genital contact or sexual stimulation between two persons including, but not limited to, sexual intercourse."
[And later:] Throughout the entire curriculum, the term 'marriage' must be defined as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." (Consistent with Federal law)
Olson adds this additional commentary:
It seems to me that a classic bait-and-switch has gone on here. The federal government has devoted more than a billion dollars to "abstinence-only" education programs in schools. These programs have commanded fairly broad public support or at least tolerance, I think, because people who disagree on many other things will often agree that youngsters are better off postponing sexual experience until they are old enough to handle the consequences. Now it turns out that the message wasn't "teens are better off if they wait" but "let's reverse the sexual revolution".
Note also the confusion about "consistent with Federal law". The regulation-writers do not seem to realize that the Federal Marriage Amendment hasn't actually passed, and that nothing in federal law forbids Massachusetts from marrying same-sex couples. Such language inadvertently makes clear, however, that the abstinence program has cut loose from whatever original public-health rationale it may have had, and is now about enforcing social conformity, not reducing risks of disease or out-of-wedlock pregnancy or empowering novices to make more considered decisions.
An additional source of information on the new guidelines, complete with more links to the problematic nature of this policy, can be found here.