Republicans need to learn this hard lesson: You can’t legislate sexuality

In one state after another, sex-obsessed authoritarians in the party are proposing laws regulating Americans’ private lives. Basically, they’ve lost their minds.

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Stickers and apparel promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sit on a table before a book tour event at the North Charleston Coliseum on April 19 in North Charleston, South Carolina.

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In the wake of a partisan Supreme Court’s abolition of Roe v. Wade, it’s become increasingly clear that there’s nothing remotely conservative about the Republican Party. In the familiar formulation, today’s GOP is like a dog that has finally caught the car it’s been chasing, seized the bumper in its teeth, and finds itself getting dragged along faster than it can run.

Voter anger over draconian abortion laws has already cost Republicans control of two crucial swing states, Michigan and Wisconsin. But the party at large shows no sign of recognizing what’s going on.

Limited government? Forget about it. In one state after another, sex-obsessed authoritarians have taken charge of the GOP. Groups with downright Orwellian names compete to enact laws dictating everybody’s most intimate personal decisions. Abortion, sexuality or gender, you name it. If it’s called the Alliance Defending Freedom or the Liberty Counsel (sic), then its avowed goal is getting the government into your pants.

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Everywhere you look, gender-crazed right-wingers are besieging libraries and school boards. My personal favorite is the Florida organization calling itself Moms for Liberty, which, judging by its TV spokesmodels, might more accurately describe itself as “Sorority Sisters for Censorship.”

The same crowd of mean girls who ran your junior high school now think that they and Gov. Ron DeSantis can dictate what can be spoken, written and read regarding sexuality pretty much anywhere in Florida.

So far, DeSantis appears to be getting his way. Soon, it will be against the law to mention anything relating to LGBTQ life in public classrooms in that state. The U.S. Supreme Court may have recognized gay marriage, but Florida teachers will be forbidden to mention it. It’s the ostrich approach to human sexuality.

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Basically, they’ve lost their minds. This is not the way Americans think when they think about freedom. It’s a retrograde fight, anyway. Does anybody really think that public school librarians are leading children into sin? Even during my long-ago youth, I certainly never read anything bawdy that I found at the library. Did anybody? And this was long before the invention of iPhones.

DeSantis appears to be trying to out-crazy Donald Trump, which simply cannot be done. The former president’s supporters basically see him as a kind of TV comic, free to pop off and to contradict himself at will. The MAGA faithful either don’t notice or don’t care.

Call it the Trump Paradox: The more whoppers he emits, the more MAGA followers see him as a truth-teller, unafraid to speak his mind.

DeSantis, meanwhile, keeps doubling down on authoritarian gestures: converting a 15-week abortion ban to a six-week ban while engaging in a public feud with the state’s largest employer over LGBTQ issues. And losing to Mickey Mouse. The angrier he acts, the more ridiculous DeSantis looks: a furious little fellow with a chip on his shoulder, like Elmer Fudd. No, Fudd’s not a Disney character, but how long before people start laughing?

But I digress. It’s the sheer futility of this latter-day puritanism that’s most remarkable. One needn’t be happy about every aspect of contemporary sexual mores to recognize that there’s not a whole lot the government can do about them. Not if we want to retain our constitutional liberties, that is.

Me, I’ve always been one of the lucky ones, in the sense that my personal proclivities have made life easier than it otherwise might have been. I was attracted to my wife from across a crowded room before I knew her name. It felt more like gravity than anything I’d freely chosen, and all these years later, it still does. How fortunate that the individual in that little shirtwaist dress also turned out to be such a high-quality person.

But it was all instinct there at the start. Certainly nothing I learned in a library. You see, people don’t choose their sexuality; it chooses them. The only meaningful question is how to live with its demands. Donald Trump’s just about the last person in America who can tell you anything worth hearing about that, and Ron DeSantis can’t be far behind.

Many Republicans appear to have forgotten what New York Times columnist Lydia Polgreen correctly calls “the commonest sense of all: Most people do not want the government making personal decisions for them. People want to control their own bodies. People want the freedom to decide when and how to form families.”

This is the fight that Republican bluenoses are destined to lose. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving party.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”

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