Today’s Meet the Press featured David Gregory’s interview with President Karzai of Afghanistan. The last question posed to Karzai was regarding the legality of marital rape under Afghani law.
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It is important to watch the clip rather than read the transcript, because Gregory’s tone was nothing less than ethnocentric. Gregory clearly is questioning the democratic-ness of Afghanistan because of this law’s passing. He might as well have called Afghanistan a “so-called” democracy for having passed an anti-human rights law. Clearly, making marital rape legal is an egregious human rights violation. However, as so many Americans have been shocked! outraged! at this Afghani law as was Gregory, perhaps a history lesson is in order:
Marital rape was legal in the United States in all 50 states until 1976. Marital rape has only been illegal in all 50 states since 1993. And only 17 states make no legal distinction between marital and non-marital rape in terms of legal charges, sentencing and defensibility. And Raquel Kennedy Bergen writes in her paper, “Marital Rape: New Research and Directions”:
However, in 30 states, there are still some exemptions given to husbands from rape prosecution. In most of these 30 states, a husband is exempt when he does not have to use force because his wife is most vulnerable (e.g., she is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, etc.) and is legally unable to consent (Bergen, 1996; Russell, 1990; NCMDR, 2005). Because of the marital contract, a wife’s consent is assumed.
This begs the question: Who are we to “primitivize” Afghanistan for legalizing a heinous act that in our own country was not fully illegal until 15 years ago? And if having no legal civil or human rights violations is the measure of whether or not one is a democracy, then for the majority of its history, the United States has not been a democracy, and perhaps still is not one.
(Cross-posted to The Reaction)