As has been widely reported, Justice Antonin Scalia made a controversial–albeit illuminating–remark on Monday, during a speech at Princeton. In response to a student who asked him about previous anti-gay writings in which he had compared laws criminalizing homosexuality to those banning bestiality and murder, Scalia defended the comparison, saying that–while he wasn’t equating homosexuality with murder–it illustrated his belief that legislative bodies should be able to enact laws against “immoral” behaviors.
I am deathly tired of legislators and judges who define “morality” exclusively by what happens below the waist, and who confuse “tradition” with a moral compass.
Throughout his career, Scalia has devoted his undeniable brilliance not to an exploration of the human condition, the nature of morality or even the role of law in society, but rather to the creation of an elaborate intellectual defense of his prejudices.
Anyone who would equate sexual orientation–an identity–with murder–a behavior–fails Classification 101. It can never be immoral simply to be something: gay, female, black, whatever. Morality by definition is right behavior. And most moral philosophers begin that examination by asking a fairly simple question: does this behavior harm another?
Now, I know there are endless (legitimate) arguments about the nature of “harm,” but–Micah Clark and Eric Miller to the contrary–the mere fact that gay people exist and may be granted equal civil rights cannot be rationally considered harmful.
How moral we are depends upon how we treat each other. Sexual molestation is wrong whether the molester is gay or straight. Theft is wrong irrespective of the color, religion or sexual orientation of the thief.
And as many others have noted, tradition is hardly a reliable guide to moral behavior. Quite the opposite, really. War has been a human tradition. Slavery was traditional for generations. The submission of women lasted eons. The loss of these “traditions” is hardly a victory for immorality–although for old white guys like Scalia, I’m sure the loss of privileged status is cause for regret.
The job of legislatures is to pass measures needed by governing bodies–rules for civic order, taxation, service delivery, and the myriad other matters that may properly be decided communally. Allowing legislators to decide whose lives are moral is not only improper, not only an abuse of power, it is itself immoral.