Whoops.

As he campaigns in the GOP primary for a congressional seat, Virginia state legislator Richard Black has come under renewed scrutiny for his comments on social issues. He’s vehemently opposed to gay rights, and as recently as 2002 he questioned legislation protecting against spousal rape, on the grounds that it would be impossible to convict a husband when “they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie, and so forth.”

Ultimately, after delivering those remarks on the floor, he voted for the billUnfortunately for him, it’s a memorable quote. And there are plenty more opinions like that where this came from. 

One feels almost sorry for him. It’s the Internet’s electoral ritual. One of the occupational hazards of running for national office on the right is how people go rooting through your comments from decades ago to make certain you didn’t express any opinion that falls into the category of Things Todd Akin Might Say.

It can be downright annoying when people dig through your comments from decades ago and discover that you called rape in the military “as predictable as human nature.” Just express a moment’s concern about people in nighties taking advantage of laws to ruin their husbands’ reputations, and suddenly that’s the quote that rings in everyone’s ears, no matter how you voted. Unfortunately, the only sure way to prevent people from doing this is not to, er, say things like that.  Which should not be so difficult, especially if, as your staff wrote in an e-mail to the Loudoun Progress: “Black was not taking a position for or against marital rape.” 

As long as we’re discussing the dubious intrigue of nighties, though, let’s get this straight.

So often a conversation about rape still comes down to the following:

consent

How does this continue to baffle people? I don’t understand. Consent is not some arcane formula, no matter what that one person in your writing seminar at college implied. 

“BUT IF WE OFFER LEGAL PROTECTIONS AGAINST SPOUSAL RAPE!” someone spits, in a fit of all-caps rage. “EVERYONE WILL HAVE TO FILL OUT HOURS OF COMPLICATED FORMS BEFORE GETTING INTO BED! IT WILL BE MADNESS! WHO GETS INTO THE MOOD BY FILLING OUT A FORM? NOBODY, THAT’S WHO!”

Nope.

Look, once more, with feeling: Consent is not some elaborate thing you have to get notarized. Consent does not mean that you have to send a fax to his or her next of kin and get stamps and seals and wait in line at the DMV for six hours. You do not have to climb up a glass mountain and slay a six-headed dragon and sow rows of salt behind you while knitting her a vest out of thistles. If it were like that, some of this hullaballoo about what a big burden it is might make sense. But it’s not.

All consent means that you have checked that the other party is on board before any sex happens. I know you’re great. I know she’s wearing an item of clothing. Sorry, you still need to check. It’s not just polite — it’s required. Remember, no one ever HAS to have sex with you. Even if she’s married to you. Even if she’s in a nightie. 

I hope we cleared that up. Not sure what I can do about his “baby pesticide” comments, though.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.