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Putting Lawrence vs. Texas Into Perspective

Written by Mike Ferguson - Mike's home page
Reprinted with permission
2003 has been a busy session for the United States Supreme Court. No decision,though, was rendered with such an emotional impact on many Americans than the one handed down in the case of Lawrence vs. Texas. The high court was asked to decide if a Texas law that allows police to jail people for "deviant" sexual conduct is Constitutional.

     The case began when police, acting on a false report from a neighbor, burst into a home and discovered two adult men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, engaged in gay sex. The men were arrested under a sodomy law and spent that night in jail. The Supreme Court, correctly, ruled by a six to three margin that the government has no business or compelling interest in regulating private sexual conduct between consenting adults.

     Homosexual and liberal activists proclaimed the ruling a "landmark" gay rights' decision. The political left is labeling the ruling a victory specifically for the gay community.  Religious and conservative activists decried the ruling as an attack on religion, marriage and traditional values. In his dissenting opinion, Justin Antonin Scalia declared that "...the Court has signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda" and "...has taken sides in the culture war."

     Both of these groups, as well as the media in general, are wrong and are missing the point of the ruling entirely.
Lawrence vs. Texas is not a "gay rights" victory nor is it an attack on traditional values or marriage. Lawrence vs. Texas is a victory for personal liberty and for the Constitutional restraints that bind the government from violating individual freedom. This ruling is a victory for personal sovereignty and privacy. It has very little, if anything, to do with the type of sex people choose to engage in.

     The Supreme Court did not in any way endorse homosexuality or gay sex. The decision does not elevate gay couples to the legal status of married couples. In fact, the issue of marriage was never a part of this case.  The Court's ruling  does not promote the idea of gay marriage nor does it chastise any individual, group or church for opposing gay behavior or homosexual activism. The plaintiffs (Lawrence and Garner) did not argue that what they do sexually is moral, nor did the Court declare thier behavior to be moral or socially acceptable. Morality was not the issue, freedom was the issue and the Court got this case right.

     Steve Crampton, the Chief Counsel for the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy defended the Texas law, and all state laws regulating sexual conduct, in a statement to the media when he declared that "Under our Constitutional republic, it is the place of the state legislature, acting through its duly elected representatives, to decide what is moral." Mr. Crampton's statement seems to represent the general view of conservatives who support laws like the one in question during
Lawrence vs. Texas. That view assumes that the government, not individuals, is responsible for dictating morality to the populace. To make this assumption is to readily agree to having our cultural values and personal morality put up for election with every political race on the ballot. Even more frightening is the assumption that "majority rule" should be given the power to impose personal values on all citizens, as Mr. Crampton advocates.

     I do not trust the government to do my financial retirement planning for me. I do not trust the government to decide for me which foods I should eat and which I should not. I do not trust the government to decide for me which medicines or health products I should be allowed to consume. When the government makes these decisions for me through law or regulation, it intrudes on both my personal freedom and the corresponding personal responsibility that goes with the freedom to make such decisions. Generally, conservatives agree with my opposition to this kind of government meddling.

     Why then, do conservatives wish to use government to regulate one of the most private aspects of others' lives, the personal sexual conduct behind closed doors, when someone makes a choice they disagree with? I do not trust the government, neither elected officials nor appointed bureacrats, to decide for me what is moral and what is not.  Since I do not trust the government to make those decisions for me, then I have no right to ask it to make those decisions for any other adult. Morality is a personal issue typically based on religious beliefs. I certainly do not want to set the precedent of establishing governmental power to decide my personal morality for me in spite of my personal religious convictions.

     Wanting to trample individual liberty by criminalizing adults who make choices that violate the moral views of others is inconsistent with the conservatives' claim to be for smaller government and greater personal freedom. Freedom is indivisible. Either we are allowed personal freedom and personal responsibility or we are not. If we want our own freedom, then freedom must be preserved for anyone who does not violate the rights of others. The liberty of the majority can only be protected when the liberty of all individuals, no matter how unpopular thier choices may be, is protected with the same fervor as the liberty of those in the mainstream culture.

    The idea of "government approved" sexual behavior conflicts with the very foundation of a free society. We cannot use the force of government to regulate the private behavior of peaceful, consenting adults in the privacy of thier own homes and expect to enjoy our own freedoms for long. Whether that personal behavior is centered around listening to unpopular music, watching movies with questionable content, reading provocative or controversial books or engaging in sexual conduct many consider to be deviant, that personal behavior must remain just that: personal behavior that is not up for a public vote.

     Those who want to stop others from engaging in sexual conduct, or any other conduct, they do not approve of are still free to try to stop the behavior they object to. Now, post
Lawrence vs. Texas, if you or I want to change someone's behavior or prevent them from  acting in a particular manner, we must do so the old-fashioned way: by convincing them to agree with us based on their own free will.

     Speaking out against behavior one disagrees with is still legal and protected free speech, so is making one's case for his or her beliefs personally and in a face to face manner. Those who object to the sexual behavior (or any other behavior) of others based on personal religious convictions can still do something about that behavior; they can minister on behalf of thier religion directly to those they disagree with.

     The difference now, thanks to the proper ruling from the Supreme Court, is that using the government to force personal morality on others through law and regulation is no longer a legal option.

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