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In Texas, the police — operating on a tip that proved false — entered a house and found John Lawrence and Tyron Garner engaging in gay sex. Texas laws prohibit such acts among same-gender couples, so Lawrence and Garner were tried and convicted of a crime. Because the Texas law permits the identical acts among mixed-gender couples, the men appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on 26 March 2003. The appeal is based on two issues. First of all, consenting adults have a right to privacy when they engage in sexual acts. Second of all, laws that prohibit such consenting acts between two men but permit them between a man and a woman violate the men's "equal protection" rights granted under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
In an interview with the Associated Press, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R, PA) commented about the appeal. Santorum said:
Aside from Santorum's mangled sentence structure, he is just wrong.
By dragging in other issues — including bestiality (generally illegal without regard for gender) and priests having sex with adult parishioners (wrong but not illegal) — both in his original interview and in later statements, Santorum engages in verbal gay bashing. This lends legitimacy to physical gay bashing of the type that killed Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.
Further, by using half truths and outright falsehoods to further his political agenda against gays, Santorum demonstrates that he is unqualified to enact laws for the benefit of some Americans, let alone all Americans. While some demand that he be removed from his leadership position in the Senate — just behind Majority Leader Bill Frist and Majority Whip Mitch McConnell — I suggest that he needs to leave the Senate entirely.
Norah Vincent's syndicated column appears in the Los Angeles Times. Many of her commentaries reflect a conservative approach to social issues. However, her 1 May column clearly supports Lawrence's and Garner's fight for equal rights for gays as a fight to preserve the privacy rights of heterosexual Americans, too.
I'm not gay. Why do I care about equal rights for gays?
27 April 2003
Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.
… In all events we think that our laws and traditions in the past half century are of most relevance here. These references show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex.
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. "It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter." … The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.
… laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court also reversed its own 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which a Georgia anti-sodomy law (since repealed in that state) was upheld. Existing anti-sodomy laws in 12 other states besides Texas are now void.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***The justice [Scalia] went on to warn of the imminent legal acceptance of such practices as bestiality, adultery and masturbation. Bestiality can be handled under animal-protection statutes, and adultery [not a criminal offense] is best handled by conscience. And are there really laws against masturbation? Who are the masturbation police?
*** End Right Sidebar ***
Harris County (Houston, TX) District Attorney Charles Rosenthal denounced the decision, saying the Court "did not allow the people of the state of Texas, through their elected legislators, to determine moral standards … for this state." That is merely another example of the culture war. Rosenthal's moral standards reflect the dogma of some religions; other religions would have Texas issuing marriage licenses for same-gender couples. In defending the Texas law, Rosenthal defended the state's interest in protecting marriage and child-rearing. Homosexual sodomy, he argued, "has nothing to do with marriage or conception or parenthood and it is not on a par with these sacred choices." This emphasis on bearing children, of course, is an argument in favor of prohibiting marriage when a man is sterile because of a teenage mumps infection or when a woman is past menopause. It is also an argument in favor of making vasectomies and tubal ligatures illegal.
In the final analysis, the Supreme Court ruled that the majority of the population cannot set arbitrary moral standards (and most moral standards are clearly arbitrary) that deprive individuals of their rights. In particular, the Court ruled that the government cannot stick its nose into our bedrooms.
As Canada moves towards legalizing same-gender marriages, England extends the rights of marriage to registered same-gender couples, and other nations consider following the lead of Belgium and The Netherlands, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants to take our nation in the opposite direction. Senator Frist announced that he supports a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-gender marriages in the United States. Saying
1 July 2003
In the 2006 elections, Senator Santorum was defeated by Democrat Robert Casey. If Senator Frist had not retired with that election, he would have no longer been the Majority Leader because Santorum's defeat helped create a Democrat majority.
So far, attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-gender marriages — to deny a right instead of assert a right — have failed. In the meantime, Belgium, The Netherlands, Canada, Spain, and South Africa recognize same-gender marriages. Also, a number of European nations — including the United Kingdom — recognize marriage-like rights of same-gender couples. Unlike the United States where the Constitution prohibits government-enacted religious dogma, many of these nations have government-supported religions.
11 October 2007
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