Privacy and morals: Who decides?

Cal Thomas

4/30/2003 12:00:00 AM - Cal Thomas

I have waited to see what my media colleagues and the politicians - from pagan to religious - think about Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-Pa.) remarks to a reporter about homosexuality before offering my own.

Santorum was not talking about sex between members of the same gender, per se (though his Catholic faith teaches him the difference between acceptable "orientation" and unacceptable actions). He was speaking about a type of moral domino theory, to which many people subscribe. That theory says if you cede territory on one social or moral issue, it makes it more difficult to hold your position on others. What Santorum did as he spoke of homosexuality, bestiality, incest and bigamy was not to equate such behavior as having similar moral standing. Rather, he believes that if the Supreme Court finds homosexual acts in a private home between "consenting adults" to be protected by the same "right to privacy" it created out of nothing in 1973 to impose abortion on demand, it will be exceedingly difficult to stand against a petitioner who argues that such a right conveys legal protection to all "private behavior."

As I read and listened to Santorum's critics, they seemed to imply there was something wrong with incest, bestiality and bigamy. Otherwise, why would they express shock and, in some cases, disgust, at what they regarded as a comparison of these with homosexual practices? The same tradition, ancient scripture and catechism that proscribe homosexual activity also speak to every expression of sexuality.

Are we repulsed in these extreme areas because we confront objective truth, or is it a matter of social conditioning? If the latter, the Supreme Court might as well strike down all social contracts should they be seen as violating a "right to privacy." Would adultery, then, no longer be grounds for divorce and could a woman not sue her philandering husband for alimony and child support because he had "plowed with someone else's heifer," to quote an ancient Hebrew text? That was Santorum's point.

The central question is at what point should government leave us alone? There is no absolute right to much in our world, except life and liberty (which is different from license). Our government proscribes the use of illegal drugs, even between "consenting adults" in the privacy of their home. One cannot legally operate a house of prostitution (not yet anyway) in the privacy of one's home, even if all participants are consenting adults. Some anti-smoking fundamentalists have proposed making it illegal to smoke at home, or possess a gun, which would violate the Second Amendment, but they're working on that, too.

The debate before the court and before the country concerns the standard that should control us and our lower nature. We have laws because not everyone would do the right thing (whatever that is in our relativistic age) were they not compelled to do so. How many more people would cheat on their taxes if there were no penalties?

This battle to hold the moral line has been lost because the culture is no longer responsive to ancient beliefs and teachings due to our primary pursuits of wealth and pleasure. Among the several problems with this departure from commandments and laws that sustained societies for at least two millenniums is that all things now become not only possible but probable. Having ignored true North, we are unable to tell where we are or to navigate out of troubled seas.

It isn't just homosexuality. I know some very stable, kind and loving homosexuals. I know some dysfunctional, divorced and abusive heterosexuals. Some homosexuals probably make better parents than some heterosexuals when it comes to care, love and support.

But (and this is what Santorum was getting at) who gets to decide moral questions when they intertwine with temporal law and based on what standard? If the Texas sodomy law is struck down (as it probably will be), then it is fair to ask, what's next? To feign outrage that Santorum would mention these other practices because some might find them offensive is to ask on what basis? Would the Supreme Court be wrong to strike them down, too, should they be challenged? If they were challenged, on what basis of law, reason, logic, theology or precedent could any objector then object?

See what I mean about moral dominoes?