Editor's note: Stephanie Coontz is Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families and teaches history at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Her most recent book is "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."
By Stephanie Coontz, Special to CNN
(CNN) - How could they not have known they were asking for trouble? In the past few years, Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana had an affair with the staff member who had helped him produce a video promoting sexual abstinence. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford flew to Argentina for an extramarital tryst, instructing his staff to tell the press he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sen. John Edwards tried to pass off the daughter he fathered as the love child of one of his aides.
And now a stockpile of sexy e-mails has simultaneously brought down the head of the CIA and delayed the nomination of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to head NATO.
Many Americans believe these scandals reflect a precipitous decline in respect for marital fidelity. If anything, however, such respect has never been higher. In a 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center, 88% of Americans said adultery was immoral - a higher number than for any other of 10 unsavory behaviors they were asked about. According to a 2009 Gallup Poll, only 6% of Americans believe extramarital sex is morally acceptable.
Tolerance for male adultery is certainly at a new low. In letters and diaries written during the Colonial and Revolutionary eras, men routinely bragged about their extramarital conquests - even to the brothers and fathers of their own wives! In the 1850s, it is estimated that New York City had one prostitute for every 64 men, while the mayors of Savannah, Georgia, and Norfolk, Virginia, put the numbers of prostitutes in their cities at one for every 39 and 26 men, respectively.
As late as 1930, Somserset Maugham's play, "The Constant Wife," was considered shocking because the heroine confronted her husband about his affair instead of simply ignoring it, as most women in polite circles did.
By Wayne Drash, CNN
(CNN) - After their son was killed in battle in Afghanistan, Lori and Jeff Wilfahrt crisscrossed their home state of Minnesota. They spoke at churches, schools, book clubs. They spoke of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt's love of country and the Constitution.
They spoke, too, of grief. They are a mother and father who utterly miss their son, a soldier who was openly gay.
On Tuesday, November 6, the Wilfahrts entered their polling station in Rosemount to vote against a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and woman. Both parents wondered: Had their boy died protecting homophobes who would deny him rights back home?
In Frederick, Maryland, the Rev. Barbara Kershner Daniel had lived with guilt for nearly 25 years. A fellow preacher who was gay had asked her to officiate his wedding with his partner. She told him no.
"Why did I do that?" she has asked herself ever since.
Mark Ellis, the former GOP state chairman in Maine, knew where he stood on the issue of same-sex marriage. Yet he struggled with whether it would hurt him professionally to break from his party.
In the northern suburbs of Seattle, middle school band and orchestra teacher Michael Clark had always spoken of dignity and respect for all. He and his partner of 18 years sat together at their dining table to vote early this year.
Their ballots weren't just votes. They were an affirmation of their love.
From Minnesota to Maryland, from Maine to Washington, this mixed coalition of voters - grieving parents, a preacher, a lifelong Republican and a gay couple - joined forces to push for historic change on same-sex marriage.
Never before had a state rejected a constitutional amendment to prevent gays from marrying. Minnesota did just that, in part spurred by the Wilfahrts' activism.
Never before had voters approved laws allowing same-sex marriage. Maryland, Maine and Washington did just that. Those states may not have garnered enough votes if ordinary citizens like Daniel, Ellis and
Clark had remained quiet.
Each took up the cause for personal reasons shaped by life experiences. Together, they surprised America; their voices emerged as a sign of a more progressive electorate that's grown tired of arguments that say marriage between two men or two women undermines the institution and the very fabric of society.
Editor's Note: Jeff Yang writes the column Tao Jones for The Wall Street Journal Online. He is a regular contributor to WNYC radio, blogging for "The Brian Lehrer Show," and appears weekly on "The Takeaway." He previously wrote the Asian Pop column for the San Francisco Chronicle and was founder and publisher of A magazine. He tweets @originalspin.
by Jeff Yang, Special to CNN
(CNN) - February seems so long ago, and the breathless, ecstatic adrenaline rush of the phenomenon we called Linsanity feels remote and surreal, like a half-remembered dream.
But here we are, with Lin, now a member of an exciting but inconsistent young Houston Rockets squad, back in the headlines again. Unfortunately, it’s not for dropping three-pointers on the Lakers but for dropping quotes in an interview — quotes that in just about any other context, from just about any other player, would have gone virtually unnoticed.
Last week, Lin gave a rare, candid interview to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, in which he admitted that he’d been unprepared for the backlash that he received after the Rockets gave him a lucrative contract - $25 million over three years - based on his lockout- and injury-shortened breakout season.
Referring to vicious talk about whether he was worth the coin in locker rooms across the league — much of which bubbled up into the blogs and back pages, and some of which came from his own former teammates on the Knicks — Lin said this: “I was a little surprised, but I wasn't shocked. I honestly feel it’s part of the underlying issue of race in American society… of being an Asian-American. I haven’t figured it out. I haven't wrapped my head around it. But it’s something I’m thinking about.” FULL POST
What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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