Morality Police Knocking Down Doors
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
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
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.
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