If only we in civil society got out of each other's way on matters of personal behavior, it would be such a relief from the sex-related blaming, shaming, lecturing and finger-wagging that fuel such destructive reactions.
The country seems to be of two minds on this -- ever more intrusive on women's reproductive freedom, while at the same time ever more accepting of gay rights and same-sex marriage.
The second of these is good news indeed. Americans' attitudes about sexual orientation have changed at a breathtaking pace over the past 10 years. A majority now either don't believe that sexual orientation is a choice any more than are height or eye color, or, as with many young people, don't see it as any big deal.
In April, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 53 percent of Americans favored allowing same-sex marriages, while 63 percent said the federal government should recognize such unions performed in states that have legalized them. Similarly, an ABC/Washington Post poll in May found that 55 percent support legalizing same-sex marriage and only 24 percent see sexual orientation as a choice.
The last number is most relevant to last week's closing of Exodus International North America, the biggest proponent of converting gay people into "ex-gays" through bogus "reparative therapy" that has done terrible harm to many of its former victims. So much, in fact, that California banned its use on minors in January. New Jersey is considering similar action.
The founder of Exodus, Michael Bussee, wound up becoming its most vocal critic. While married with children, he fell in love with another Exodus volunteer, Michael Cooper, also married with kids. In 1979 they couldn't live with the lie and left the group. Mr. Cooper died of AIDS, and since then Mr. Bussee has been trying to make up for his snake-oil peddling by running an online network of ex-ex-gays -- people like himself who tried to become straight, failed and finally quit the whole misguided enterprise.
But Exodus went on -- until this past week, when its leader, Alan Chambers, posted an apology for all the harm he caused and then shut Exodus down. In his apology, he admits his ongoing attraction to men but doesn't say what this means, if anything, for his marriage to his wife.
This won't be the end of "gay cure" efforts among homophobic religious conservatives. But their anti-gay preaching also won't change the trend toward greater acceptance.
All reliable studies show that children raised by same-sex parents do just as well as those in opposite-sex households. Fair-minded judges have thus concluded there is no justification for denying those kids the same legal protections as other children.
The Supreme Court has not yet issued its long-awaited ruling on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage even when it's legal in the state where it occurred. But no matter which way the court goes, more gays and lesbians will be living, openly, as who they are, not as what others have told them they should be.
The more that happens -- the more Americans recognize their gay neighbors, co-workers and relatives as having the same hopes and dreams as they do -- the less fear and prejudice will prevail.
That, in turn, will mean more people coming out of the closet or never going into it in the first place; less self-hatred of the sort that leads hypocritical "men of the cloth" to rant in public against what they themselves do in secret; less of the hopelessness and depression that push too many gay teens to attempt suicide; less of the denial or longing for "normalcy" that leads to marrying straight spouses as a cover.
Religious leaders don't have to perform marriage ceremonies if they don't want to. But they cannot be allowed to dictate how civil society proceeds in this matter.
Unfortunately, religious conservatives have been allowed to assume a disproportionate influence over women's health care, intruding on private decisions where they have no business and punishing women who don't conform to their narrow, parochial views.
These Republican men, and they are mostly men, have spearheaded all manner of intrusions into women's wombs, passing restrictions on the state level that gag doctors, shut down clinics, obstruct access to health care, harass those seeking legal abortions and even block coverage for contraceptives, which are used by almost every woman in the country at some point.
In Texas, the legislature is trying to push through a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks and close nearly all the clinics that do the procedure. Some 700 opponents staged a "people's filibuster" until 5 a.m. Friday, delaying the vote, but who knows what will have happened by the time this goes to print.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the GOP-led House of Representatives is up to similar mischief, although the restrictive bill has little chance of making it through the Senate and no chance of surviving a presidential veto.
There is one bright spot, though -- the recent decision by a federal judge ordering the Food and Drug Administration to lift age restrictions on the Plan B morning-after pill, thus making it available to all without a prescription. This ruling was a scathing rebuke to the right-wing moralists and also to the Obama administration, which unaccountably supported the age restrictions.
So, as it stands, we're looking at an up arrow for gay rights and a down arrow for women's rights. Clearly, a lot more work remains to be done.
Sally Kalson is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1610).