Last edited: January 25, 2005

Nobody’s Business

High court will decide if states have an interest in what goes on in bedrooms.

Omaha World-Herald, March 30, 2003
World Herald Square, Omaha, NE 68102
Fax: 402-345-4547, Email:

What, if any, compelling interest does Texas have that justifies its law criminalizing the conduct of consenting adults in the privacy of a bedroom?

The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to decide whether a prosecutor answered that question, or whether the answer is: none.

At the heart of the matter is a disagreement among Americans over homosexual conduct. Some people disapprove on moral grounds, even if that conduct is private, and 13 states have codified laws backing up their concept of morality. Other people argue that no government, state or national, should stick its laws into the private conduct of consenting adults.

And still others see the Texas law and others like it as a club that allows—even encourages—continued discrimination against homosexuals by employers, landlords and others. Their argument contends that if the private conduct of homosexuals is illegal, then employers and others feel they are entitled to deny jobs or housing to people who commit these particular illegal acts.

Whatever its decision, the Supreme Court won’t wash away the hatred some people direct against gays and lesbians. But it should extract government from the middle of intensely personal relationships.

Charles A. Rosenthal Jr., the Houston prosecutor who argued in favor of the law Wednesday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, told the court why his state belongs in its citizens’ homes and their bedrooms: “Texas has a right to set moral standards.”

But Justice Stephen Breyer countered him: If that were the standard, he said, a state could criminalize telling lies at the dinner table, cheating or being rude. “The hard question here is,” he said, “can the state pass anything it wants because the state thinks it’s immoral? If you’re going to draw a line anywhere, it might start with a line at the bedroom door.”

A Supreme Court decision tossing out these intrusive laws that mandate the majority’s notion of acceptable behavior shouldn’t weigh in as either pro- or anti-homosexual rights.

Rather, it should uphold a long-standing, very American principle: The government should not regulate conduct that causes no harm to others.

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