Tolerance Run Amok

The furor over Senator Rick Santorum's recent comments concerning homosexuality and the law continues unabated. During an interview with the Associated Press, Santorum mentioned the pending Lawrence v. Texascase, in which the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of Texas's prohibition against sodomy. Santorum said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy; you have the right to polygamy; you have the right to incest; you have the right to adultery." As soon as his comments became public, the press and gay rights groups vilified Santorum. His words were compared to controversial and racially insensitive remarks made by Senator Trent Lott last fall. The New York Times said that the Senator's "remarks equating homosexuality with polygamy and incest" wrote a "new chapter" in "the long and conflicted history between gays and Republicans." The problem is, of course, that he did no such thing. Santorum was merely stating what should be obvious to anyone who has followed the Court's decisions in this area. Any reasoning the Court uses to overturn the Texas law can be applied to the other conduct Santorum cited. Santorum has a lot of company in his thinking. I and others have written the same thing in scholarly journals. Justice Scalia argued the same thing in his dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. What's more, Santorum's critics know this. So what's behind the demagoguery? The same thing that is behind all demagogues: that is, intimidate those with whom you disagree. In Santorum's case, the source of the ire isn't his legal analysis; it is his moral analysis. As a devout Catholic, he does not believe that the state ought to sanction all kinds of sexual behavior. Tolerance used to mean an open market for the free discussion of everyone's truth claims -- not anymore. Over the past few decades, it has been redefined to be the notion that not only should I have the right to do what I want to do, but you have to approve of it, as well. Failure to show approval is considered to be, at best, narrow-mindedness and, at worst, bigotry and hate-mongering. This isn't my conclusion. It's what the Supreme Court said in Romer v. Evans, when it invalidated a Colorado constitutional amendment barring anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. The Court said that only "animus," or bias, could have caused the voters to vote for such a law. And the stakes are about to get higher. Massachusetts is on the verge of creating a right to same-sex marriage. If that happens, says Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution, same-sex couples from across the country will get married in Massachusetts, return home, and demand that their "marriages" be recognized in their states. Their efforts will be enhanced if moral objections to homosexuality are automatically dismissed as bigotry. And this is what's really at stake in the debate over Santorum's comments: not a politician's fortunes, but the meaning of tolerance and freedom of conscience. It's whether people of faith will be able to state publicly what they believe or whether the only right left to Americans will be one of so-called "sexual freedom." For further reading and information: Visit Sen. Rick Santorum's website to read his response to the Associated Press story. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Persistent Conflict for Gays and G.O.P.," New York Times, 22 April 2003 (archived article, cost $2.95 to retrieve).
  1. Brent Bozell, "Associated (with liberals) press,", 30 April 2003.
Stanley Kurtz, "The Libertarian Question: Incest, homosexuality, and adultery," National Review Online, 30 April 2003. Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, The Christian in Today's Culture (Tyndale, 1999).


Chuck Colson


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