May 9, 2003

Rights for thee, but not for me

By: AF Editors

Merely months after the GOP’s top dog in the Senate was ousted for making allegedly racially insensitive remarks, yet another member of the Republican Senate leadership has been ensnared by his choice of words. But whether or not one agrees with Senator Rick Santorum’s view that states should proscribe homosexual acts, he raises a perfectly legitimate point that has been utterly obscured in the Democrat-driven feeding frenzy. It is a question that goes to the very heart of our notions of democracy and of government’s role to moderate competing–and often conflicting–values and social mores in a pluralistic society.

Simply posed, the question asks, who gets to decide which values are honored in our legal regime, and how? As the Supreme Court ponders the present Texas sodomy case, we can only hope that the partisan sniping that is infecting the public discourse does not seep into the judicial chambers.

If liberals could only get past Santorum’s personal stance on the issue and look at the larger picture, they would not need a mirror to see that their self-righteous indignation has no clothes. On every social issue ranging from abortion to homosexuality, it is usually liberals who have reminded us that government should not legislate morality. Since Santorum equated the legality of homosexual acts with bigamy, polygamy, and incest, however, the Left’s line of attack has been that these activities are incomparable. Leaving aside the problematic case of incest for a moment, implicit in these denials is the assertion that government should indeed legislate morality some of the time, but simply not in the case of homosexual acts.

Incest is problematic because of the fiduciary relationship and coercion that are usually entailed. But depending on how one looks at it, polygamy, once accepted as a central tenet by some members of the Mormon Church (and still practiced by many societies today), is consensual. On the occasions when it is not, the coercion often stems from the fact that it has been driven underground by its statutory prohibition.

Gay activists may argue that homosexuality is deserving of protection because it is an inherent inclination, while polygamy is not. But empirical evidence, such as the prevalence of adultery (a recently retired high government official comes to mind), should lead one to vigorously question the science behind this claim.

Those on the radical Left have sometimes gone so far as to argue that there are no absolute truths. All morality is relative, and we should respect cultural practices that are different from our own, the argument goes. Yet, throughout history, our Supreme Court has held that some acts may be banned because of a compelling state interest, while others may not.

Consider the case of peyote–a hallucinogen used in Native American religious ceremonies. In 1990, the Court ruled that Oregon had a legitimate state interest in controlling psychotropic substances and allowed it to ban this practice. In 1994, Congress passed a law overriding the Court to specifically allow peyote use again. Just recently, however, a Michigan family court ruled that Native American children may not use peyote, even under their parents’ supervision.

In the end, to which of these activities–sex with someone of the same gender, having two wives, having more than two wives, or using a hallucinogen during a religious ceremony–do we confer rights status to? Which ones do we deny? Judging from the Left’s reaction to Santorum’s remarks, one can infer that this is an entirely subjective process subject to the whims of the majority in a particular jurisdiction.

Given the politically fashionable mores at the present, it would not be improbable if legislatures were to prohibit smoking tobacco but permit lighting up on pot. Does this make any sense? In this sense, Santorum got it right: to avoid logical schizophrenia and tyranny by the social and cultural elite, if we permit one activity, how can we consistently prohibit the others? And isn’t this what the Left has been arguing all along?