Baylor University, a conservative Baptist school in the heart of Texas, has been attempting to amend its student conduct code to appear to be more tolerant of LGBT individuals. On Thursday, the student senate approved language that would remove the term “homosexual acts” from the list of sexual activity that is not condoned at the university.
Students who supported the change pointed out that they didn’t want the student code to unfairly target LGBT people. For instance, one Baylor student noted that removing “homosexual acts” will help make LGBT students feel more loved and protected by the rest of the Baylor student body, and represents an important step toward becoming a more caring campus community.
While that’s a valiant goal, the re-wording of the conduct code actually has the potential to make Baylor’s official approach to human sexuality more problematic. If university officials approve the change, the term “homosexual acts” will be replaced with the phrase “non-marital consensual deviate sexual intercourse.” Not only does that new phrase specifically label homosexual relationships as “deviate,” but it also expands the definition of negative sexual activity to include all sex outside of marriage.
The existing language in the code of conduct clarifies this point even further in the lead-up to the phrase that is being amended: “Baylor will be guided by the understanding that sexuality is a gift from the creator God and that the purposes of this gift include (1) the procreation of human life and (2) the uniting and strengthening of the marital bond in self-giving love. These purposed are to be achieved through heterosexual relationships within marriage. Missuses of God’s gift will be understood to include but not limit to, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts.”
The policy does not specify how the punishment for a case of “fornication” or “non-marital consensual deviate sexual intercourse” would differ from the punishment for a case of rape or incest. It notes only that “the University shall thoroughly review the facts and circumstances of each allegation of sexual misconduct” to “determine if the allegation is supported by credible evidence,” and “constructive forgiveness will guide all efforts” as university officials deal with each case on an individual basis.
Although it’s not always enshrined into state law or university conduct codes, this position toward extramarital sex is a common position within conservative communities. Earlier this year, the right-wing Family Research Council suggested that the young Americans who have premarital sex should be punished because they don’t deserve the right to engage in sexual intercourse. Fox News has also equated teen sex outside of marriage with “criminal behavior,” suggesting that teens shouldn’t have readily available access to contraception.
These attitudes toward human sexuality helped fuel the abstinence-only movement in the 1990s, which has limited students’ access to accurate sexual health resources and ultimately helped contribute to epidemic levels of STD infections and teen pregnancy rates. Sexual assault prevention advocates also argue that this emphasis on purity has contributed to rape culture, setting up an unhealthy dynamic between male and female sexuality that ultimately erases the lines of consent and encourages victim-blaming.
While institutions like Baylor typically make the claim that premarital or homosexual sex is incompatible with Christianity, other religious communities are taking a radically different approach. In fact, some churches actually choose to integrate comprehensive sex ed into their Sunday School curricula, attempting to model the benefits of discussing sexuality in a positive way within a religious setting.