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Rick Santorum’s Moral Outrage
[April 24, 2003]

By Nicholas Provenzo

Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is under fire. According to the transcript of the now infamous interview he gave to AP reporter Lara Jakes Jordan this week, Santorum believes that regulating consensual sex between adults is a compelling government interest, while protecting the privacy of these same adults is not.

“[I]f 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. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold—Griswold was the contraceptive case—and abortion. And now we're just extending it out.

Brilliant. The Griswold case Santorum thinks is a slippery slope to moral anarchy actually recognized as basic a freedom as a woman’s right to use birth control. In 1965, the US Supreme Court upheld the unenumerated right of a married couple to use contraception, availing itself of the Ninth Amendment in rendering its holding. The Griswold case was one of the rare times the Court has interpreted the Ninth Amendment the way it ought to be interpreted —as a check on government power and a means of protecting individual rights not specifically spelt out in constitution, but still a provable aspect of an individual’s right to his life. Santorum is not just railing against sexual practices he takes issue with, he’s railing against individual rights.

In the same interview, Santorum digs himself deeper: 

SANTORUM: “Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality. . . [interrupted]  

AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator; it's sort of freaking me out.

SANTORUM: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.

Santorum’s comments sort of freak me out too, but for a different reason. Santorum attacks the freedom of all consenting adults to control their capacity for sex, perhaps our most important and private capacity.

Judging by his statements, Santorum seems to think the moral purpose of one’s existence is not the pursuit of one's happiness, defined by one’s own judgment and achieved through one’s voluntary relationships with others. Instead, the purpose of one’s existence and the existence of all of society is to simply breed and raise children—think Family Über Alles.

In attacking what he calls immoral, yet private acts, Santorum said:

“You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong, healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

According to Santorum, it’s not the individual, but the family that is the real “basic unit” of society. So, it comes as no surprise then that he is willing to stomp all over the rights of individuals to preserve acts that he thinks threaten the family. By Santorum's thinking, what possible rights could individuals have, as they are nothing more than cells in a family unit that must be the focus government power?  

Yet whether it’s in the name of “family values,” whether it’s “compassionate conservatism,” whether it’s the mystical prohibitions on sex found in the Holy Bible, all of those things, a view like Santorum’s is antithetical to freedom in America.

America is a secular, free republic and its government exists to defend individual rights. The Declaration of Rights does not speak once of a family, but its message on the rights of individuals could not be clearer. Individuals have a right to their life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue their own happiness. Unless a person’s action results in force being initiated upon another, the government must remain silent. As far as the government is concerned, the private affairs of consenting adults is just that, and not a realm for government regulation.   

But consider this comment from James Taranto at Opinion Journal’s “Best of the Web”: “The real point here is that except for a few radical libertarians, hardly anyone actually accepts the principle that the government must never regulate private, consensual sexual behavior. What regulations one finds acceptable or desirable is a matter of custom and tradition as much as principle.” Translation: outside of a few nut jobs, no one really cares about individual rights—personal whims and prejudice have just as much a place in our society as reason.

Santorum’s statements and Taranto’s defense of them reveals how far our America has strayed from its founding principles. The conservatives are not defenders of individual rights—they never have been. At root, the conservatives want the same power over people’s lives as the liberals. Where the liberal wants to control your life at the workplace and the cash register, the conservative thinks he has a right to dictate what goes on in your bedroom. Both views are equally repellant.

The principle of individual rights is so critical to the proper establishment of human relationships that we can not afford for long its half-hearted defenders. I could easily say I want Santorum out of government, and I do. But unlike Trent Lott’s statements endorsing the racial segregation of the past, Santorum’s statements resonate with more than a few, so his departure seems unlikely. America is an individual rights republic that does not understand the principle of individual rights. And yet again, a conservative’s failure to grasp the principle of individual rights has led to another betrayal.

Some people will write off this controversy as only affecting homosexuals, a group many feel no desire to defend. I think differently. Santorum’s comments strike directly at the heart of America. He and other conservatives say the heart of America is family. I say it is freedom.


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