Roy Moore has been accused of sexually assaulting Leigh Corfman as a fourteen-year-old girl when he was approximately thirty years old. This may or may not be true, of course. But given all the events of the past few months, it is fair to follow the dictum of believing the woman first and asking Judge Moore to refute – or admit to – the allegations.
Thus far, Moore has denied the accusations, but his supporters have gone further, suggesting that if it did happen, so what. Republican State Auditor Jim Ziegler asserted that “[the Biblical] Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” and that “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
On the legal question, the age of consent in Alabama is sixteen years old, notably lower than most other states. An adult having sex with a child who has not reached the age of consent is statutory rape. Corfman has not claimed sexual intercourse occurred, just inappropriate touching. But assuming Corfman’s allegations are truthful, I am dubious that Moore did not intend for the meeting with Corfman to proceed towards sexual congress. That Moore’s alleged actions were technically legal because sexual intercourse did not occur as he had perhaps wished is hardly a position of exemplary legal certainty. Say I had opened the door of an unlocked car and tried to steal it but failed because I could not hot-wire the vehicle. It might be a good technicality for a lawyer to work with but it isn’t exactly standing on a rock of righteousness.
Moore denies the allegation that the events Corfman described occurred, and forty years out from the alleged incidents there is no clear way to determine the veracity of Corfman’s claims. However, the reporter who developed this story found individuals willing to corroborate what Corfman said at the time about the events and to confirm some general facts presented in her reporting. Following the rule of “Believe the woman first,” I tend to believe Corfman. Moore so far has only offered claims of political motivation, refuted by Corfman, and character assassination in rebuttal. Whether it amounts to anything “illegal” or not, I can’t say, but Moore is squirming as if guilty, in my opinion.
Which brings us to the moral question. The argument seems to be that since Joseph married Mary as a teenager while she was pregnant, that now, two-thousand-plus years later, we should be allowed to follow the same standards. At a time when lifespans were short, infant mortality was high, and the need for children as “insurance” for old age was a necessity, the Darwinian imperative to have child brides made sense. Two-thousand plus years ago in a remote outpost of the Roman empire, marrying – or even raping – a fourteen-year-old bride may have been socially and morally acceptable. Many primitive cultures today, such as rainforest-dwelling Amazonian tribes, regularly allow marriage as defined by their religion at the age of puberty or shortly after.
But times change. Today in the Western world lifespans are dramatically longer and infant mortality significantly lower than the time of Christ. Most states have adopted a legal standard of the age of consent as between sixteen and eighteen, with specified exceptions. Western countries have followed suit to the point of funding massive public education campaigns in the developing world to discourage the practice of child marriage. Allowing young women to remain unmarried and childless to adulthood is fundamental to the goal of empowering women.
When Evangelicals – Moore’s supporters, also a significant part of the GOP/Trump base – turn a dismissive eye to the accusations leveled against Moore, they are in essence condoning statutory rape. They reveal the moral unsuitability of their beliefs in the today’s world. Their religious views are a relic from a past we need not return to. Increasingly, these are the views not just of the far-right, but of the whole of the GOP. The Party of Lincoln is fast becoming the a retrograde party of racist, misogynist, theocrats who would welcome a white Christian takeover of our country.
I have little confidence in the willingness of the Alabama electorate to see through Moore’s denials. Twice he has been removed from his judicial bench, and twice Alabamans have returned him to office. He is a conspiracy hound, homophobe, anti-Muslim, and may be a white-supremecist. But his constituents seem to love him anyway. My hope is that enough enlightened people in Alabama see fit to vote for his opponent, but I hold out little hope for his defeat.