Last edited: February 06, 2005

The Right of a Private Life

Court replaced prejudice with a respect for human diversity

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 29, 2003
P. O. Box 1719, Sarasota, FL 33578
Fax: 941-957-5276 Email:

If the sex is consensual, private and gratis between adults, government should get out of the bedroom.

That’s essentially what the Supreme Court said Thursday, striking down anti- sodomy laws in a 6-3 ruling.

The decision, which repudiated earlier court logic on the issue, is a historic breakthrough for the cause of gay rights. But straight or gay, Americans have reason to celebrate this ruling: A strong majority of the justices told government to keep its nose out of citizens’ private lives—and sexuality is about as private as you can get.

Many Americans will detest this ruling because it legitimizes behavior that they consider “deviate” and sinful. They’re free to state those opinions, of course, but in this nation they’re not free to impose them on fellow citizens. The right of individuals to hold diverse beliefs and values is one of our country’s most cherished principles. The high court’s ruling is a welcome reaffirmation of this tradition.

Let it be clear here that the court did not sanction a lawless, anything-goes approach to sexuality. It took pains to stress that the case before it involved no coercion, child exploitation, prostitution, harassment or public lewdness. The principals were simply two consenting gay adults, arrested in their home.

“The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”

The court’s decision overturns a Texas law that banned sodomy between same-sex couples. However, it is likely to also invalidate broader statutes such as Florida’s, which outlawed sodomy for anybody. Thus, for heterosexual or homosexual couples, the court said government doesn’t belong between the sheets.

Dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia carped that this ruling will open the floodgates to the “homosexual agenda”—gay marriages, adoptions, etc. Such developments are anathema to groups like Focus on the Family, which warned that Thursday’s ruling erased “boundaries that prevent sexual chaos in our culture.”

They’re entitled to that view, but we don’t agree with it. Though the country clearly suffers from relationship chaos—as evidenced by the number of torn-apart families, domestic violence reports and child-abuse cases—the causes of it go much deeper than sexual identity. In any case, Thursday’s court ruling seems more likely to spread harmony than chaos, because it replaces prejudice with a new respect for human diversity.

The decision does not legalize gay marriage or adoption, but it may someday lead to them—and is that so bad? Would it be so terrible if two people who love and respect each other make a lifetime commitment in the eyes of the law?

The court closed off an avenue of discrimination, and opened a door to broader human rights. That, in our view, is not a bad thing at all.

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