According to the New York Times: “Texas was one of only four states — Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri are the others — to apply a criminal sodomy law exclusively to same-sex partners. An additional nine states — Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia — have criminal sodomy laws on their books that in theory, if not in practice, apply to opposite-sex couples as well. As a result of the majority’s broad declaration today that the government cannot make this kind of private sexual choice a crime, all those laws are now invalid.”
It’s worth noting that these laws were not mere misdemeanors, either; in Idaho, the potential sentence was 15 years to life.
It has long been my belief that government has no right to enter our homes and make moral decisions for us. Any law we pass necessarily limits our freedoms, and the only justification for limiting freedoms in one way is to increase them in another. In the most obvious example, we must ban murder, because murder takes all rights from its victims. But even much more abstract laws tend to fit this mold: environmental protection, for example, limits the freedoms of polluters in order to increase the freedom of all Americans to live safely; anti-fraud laws limit our speech, but they protect us from more serious threats to our property rights.
Moral legislation, however, inevitably restricts rights for some people without increasing rights for others. When a couple’s right to commit a sexual act in privacy is limited, whose rights are increased? When an American flag is burned, whose rights are decreased? If we cherish our constitution because it guarantees our freedoms, then we must accept that those freedoms will be exercised in ways we might find abhorrent. America was founded by religious communities whose views and practices were unacceptable in the Old World; those groups chose to establish a republic in which they would live in harmony, allowing each individual his right to make his own moral decisions.
This goes for certain hot-button issues championed by conservatives as well. Perhaps we have gone too far in limiting prayer in schools, and certainly education without moral content is impossible and absurd. With school prayer as with all issues, we must look carefully to see which rights are extended by our legal decisions, and which are curtailed, and whether the balance is a worthy one to strike.
When you pose the question in this way — when you ask, What freedoms are protected, and what freedoms are lost? — it becomes difficult to take anything the government does for granted. Drug laws, highways, taxes, wars should all be subject to this line of enquiry, and we should take the results of that enquiry seriously.
But in the meantime, a shameful category of American law has at last been overturned. Adults are now free to make their own decisions about their most intimate encounters, and that is as it should be.