By LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON
In the past 50 years, the Supreme Court has systematically and consistently ruled to disestablish the legal basis for a moral society. (See my article in The Wanderer dated January 16, 2014, p. 4A.) The court legalized the use of contraception for married couples in 1965, for unmarried persons in 1972, and then made abortion a right in Roe v. Wade in January 1973. The judicial instrument for this statutory disassembly was a created “right to privacy,” an amorphous concept that has been continually expanded to legalize more and more formerly illicit acts.
The enlargement did not end with Roe. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992, the court, addressing a woman’s right to an abortion, stated: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.” This statement is so all-encompassing and open to interpretation that Judge Robert Bork believed that, if followed, the courts could invalidate all laws regulating individual behavior.
And so it was. The judicial logic was taken to the next step in Compassion in Dying v. Washington, in 1996. If a woman has the right to kill her unborn child, does she not have the right to take her own life? In its majority opinion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote, “every man has the liberty to determine the time and manner of his death,” a statement without limitations, such as a person being terminally ill. Assisted suicide and euthanasia were given legitimacy.
Then, sodomy laws were challenged. These primarily were state statutes understood by the courts to outlaw any sexual act, typically between persons of the same sex, deemed to be “unnatural” or immoral. In 1962, every state had laws making sodomy illegal, although soon after individual states began to repeal those bans. If sex is viewed strictly for pleasure with no procreative aspect, there is no reason why it should be limited to persons of the opposite gender. The Supreme Court in 2003, ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, followed the trend and invalidated all sodomy laws.
With homosexual acts legalized and the marital act’s focus on pleasure, it was natural to redefine the meaning of marriage. In the 1990s, virtually all states statutorily banned same-sex “marriages” — although some were moving in the direction of recognition. To limit the movement, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which defined marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman for federal purposes. This was to prove a temporary hindrance.
Massachusetts, by a ruling of its Supreme Judicial Court in 2004, legalized same-sex “marriage,” making it the first state to do so. DOMA was then assailed. In June 2013, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional as it restricted the interpretation of the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to heterosexual couples. The same day, the court allowed a lower court decision to stand, which had overturned an amendment to the California constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
Today, 17 states allow same-sex “marriage,” with Illinois to become the 18th on June 1, 2014; ten others recognize same-sex unions. These changes have been accomplished through court rulings, legislative changes, or direct popular vote.
The definition of marriage was now open to further dilution. Kody Brown and his four wives, members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect who star in the reality TV show, Sister Wives, contended that Utah’s law banning polygamy violated their right to privacy and religious freedom.
In December 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the prohibition was unconstitutional. In his ruling, he cited Lawrence, in which Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that the Constitution guarantees people “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.”
A new phase of cleansing the culture of traditional behavioral values has now begun. For 50 years, as the courts have increasingly legitimized immorality, the public has acquiesced. Now the courts are forcing people to be not only accepting, but supportive, of acts that oppose their religious beliefs. Small businesses, such as bakeries and photographers, are being sued for not providing their services to celebrate same-sex “marriages” — even when those “marriages” violate the consciences of the business owners.
The American Civil Liberties Union has brought suit against the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, claiming that the bishops’ pro-life health directives prevented a Catholic hospital in Michigan from providing a woman with adequate health care, that is, an abortion. Catholic social agencies have been forced to close for not providing adoption services to homosexual couples.
The string of rulings legitimizing immoral behavior is endless. Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting in Lawrence, said that morals legislation is now constitutionally impermissible. With an end to virtually all legislative constraints on immorality, can the courts continue to rule against incest, pedophilia, bestiality, group “marriages,” and other erotic fantasies?
Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, published in 1968, described the consequences that would follow the widespread acceptance of contraception. He warned:
“Consider also the dangerous weapon that would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who have no concern for the requirements of morality. . . . Who will stop rulers from favoring and even imposing upon their peoples, if they should consider it necessary, the method of contraception that they judge to be most efficacious?”
How perceptive Pope Paul VI was. Now four-and-a-half decades after he expressed his concern, we have a president who is mandating that virtually all employers — including religious groups such as Little Sisters of the Poor — provide their employees with insurance for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.
If this country and its people are to halt the rush into national licentiousness and return to a morals-based culture, there must be a recognition throughout society that God exists, that He set forth Commandments on how we should live our lives, that marriage has a procreative purpose, that human life must be respected and protected from conception to natural death, and that we will be judged by Him to account for how we live our lives. This re-evangelization must begin with Catholics through the Church, from the pulpit. It can be accomplished, but only with God’s help through prayer.
Let it begin with us — and now.
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(The author is a visiting scholar in The School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America.)