Last edited: February 14, 2005

Morality Police Knocking Down Doors

Iowa State Daily, December 4, 2002
108 Hamilton Hall, Ames, IA 50011

By Steve Skutnik, Daily Staff Writer

When is what goes on in your bedroom the business of the community? Apparently, when it violates the "public mores."

Yes, apparently states such as Texas, along with 12 others, don’t have their hands full enough protecting individuals from violent crime and theft—all of these states still feel the pressing need to police acts of sodomy as well. Their justification? "Preserving public morals," as a Texas state appeals court found.

Right now, the matter of sodomy laws is under review by the Supreme Court, under the pretense that such laws inevitably face unequal enforcement and disproportionately target homosexuals.

This, of course, is not the first time such laws have been challenged before the Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld by a 5-4 vote the prosecution of two gay men under a similar Georgia law. The case, Bowers v. Hardwick, argued that such laws amounted to an invasion of the constitutional right to privacy.

While such objections scratch the surface of why policing sex acts between consenting adults should be unconstitutional, they both fail to strike the root of the outrageous nature of such laws—namely, what right does the government have in invading our homes to enforce crimes of "public decency" when it cannot even manage to keep our schools and homes safe from real threats—criminals who wish to terrorize law-abiding people?

The reason citizens come together to form governments is to protect themselves from those who would initiate force and fraud against others to achieve their ends—criminals and tyrants. We form a government to protect ourselves against rapists, thieves, and murderers. What possible threat does what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home pose to greater society as a whole?

The objection, however, is not limited to matters such as anti-sodomy laws. The criminalization of consensual acts between adults has long occurred and been readily accepted. Consider, for instance, the matter of "history’s oldest profession"—prostitution. Clearly, it is hard to deny that such an act isn’t by definition consensual—the act itself is one in which two parties choose to exchange sex for money. It’s little different than how sex has been exchanged throughout history—for power, love, influence, loyalty, or whatever end the two parties can agree upon.

It’s difficult to argue that such a sale of vice is any different from the sale of any other vice—cigarettes, alcohol, pornography, fatty foods—yet the sale of all of these things exists and is regulated because there has and always will exist demand for such things and in turn, a seller. To deny this fact is to deny both human nature along with the sum of human history.

Sodomy laws simply represent a microcosm of this criminalization of consensual behavior frowned upon by the larger whole of society, yet what is not realized in all of this is that in these exchanges, no other party than the actors is involved. Unlike the types of crimes governments are formed to protect us from—murder, rape, theft, assault—consensual acts like sodomy do not infringe upon the rights of others, nor are they the business of others any more than what happens in anyone else’s bedroom.

In this, it is not a commandment for society to condone or accept the behavior of others they have an ethical objection to—simply not to interfere in matters where they have no relevant interest.

Much like how the right to swing one’s fist ends at someone else’s nose, consensual acts like sodomy and prostitution are no more a threat to others than one quietly swinging one’s fist around in the privacy of their own home.

While it is certainly the right of others to condemn such behavior, when such matters do not pose a threat to others, it should be of no more concern of government to stamp out said "vices" than it would to invade peoples’ homes to prevent "vices" such as smoking or eating poorly.

Frequently, the defense of such laws comes from the perspective of protecting the "moral tapestry" of society—thus, it is argued, the government maintains a right to create laws which prosecute seemingly innocuous acts which run counter to society’s better instincts.

Yet such logic begs the simple query—in the end, whose job is it to decide upon what is right and wrong?

To imply the law can ever take the place of sound moral judgment is to invite a paternalistic governmental mentality—something strikingly similar to the belief of clerics who would impose the Shariah—strict Islamic law.

In the end, it isn’t the Supreme Court that should answer questions like these but Congress and respective state legislatures.

The ultimate question is at what point do our own "virtue police" become different than those who we fight to differentiate ourselves from?

  • Steve Skutnik is a graduate student in nuclear physics from Ames.

[Home] [Editorials] [USA]