Santorum Uncorks the Privacy Genie
What is it about monogamous, heterosexual relationships that conservatives hate so much? What is it about “traditional family values” that makes a hardcore Capitalist suddenly want to clamp down on the free market, restrict consumer options, and engage in protectionist policies? What is it about the Republican party that makes it impossible for it to understand the Fourth Amendment and the social implications of a limited government?
On April 7, 2003 Republican Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum did something unusually courageous for a politician. He was honest. While discussing politics with an easily freaked out member of the Associated Press, Santorum opined that fiscal liberalism takes power away from families while fiscally conservative policies empower them. Not content to discuss tax issues, Santorum – fresh from defeat of his beloved Faith-Based Initiative -- plunged headlong into a familiar rant against the evils of welfare and the rights of tax payers to not only have a say about where their money is going but to make moral judgments about those receiving it.
Listening to Santorum might lead one to believe that conservative families and those not accepting public assistance dollars do not suffer from whatever faults liberals and their social programs apparently possess. In fact, the only problem that Santorum-approved families appear to have is the never-ending assaults heaped upon them by the twin evils of liberalism and individualism.
Before uttering the lines that launched him into the thick of current controversy, Santorum blamed the recently uncovered Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandals on homosexuals and rampant liberal thinking on matters of sex. Having grown up within the embrace of the RCC, I don’t remember anything particularly liberal about its policies regarding sexuality. I do, however, remember that all priests and nuns make promises of chastity – regardless of their sexual orientation – and that the Church hierarchy possesses a singularly insular, secretive, and highly protective structure. Court case after court case has reassured me that my memories are correct. Yet in Santorum’s world, the problem has not been organized cover-ups of reported abuse but free-love faggots exploring their sinfully individualistic sexualities with “post-pubescent men.” Apparently Santorum hasn’t kept up with the many, less homoerotically titillating stories of abortions, abandoned children, and mistresses left to die of drug overdoses. But then, at least these outrages are heterosexual in nature and nearly traditional in their own sad way.
Not so the upcoming Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, which became Santorum’s next target after he assured the AP reporter that he’s got nothing against homosexuals – as long as they don’t act upon their urges. According to Santorum, repression of same-sex desires is necessary. To discourage same-sex sodomy laws would be to “undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family.”
Like many social conservatives, Santorum sees defense of non-heterosexual and non-monogamous relationship rights as an active assault on the existence of monogamous, heterosexual marriages and families. Santorum and his followers believe that these marriages must be preferentially and exclusively protected, as well as given special rights and privileges. I’m not certain whether he and others like him believe that refusing to allow gay men and women the right to shared intimacy will force them into approved partnering structures – or they just think gay sex is so deliciously preferable to straight sex that it must be condemned and oppressed.
Of course, the good senator would never admit to any interest in other men nor perhaps even an understanding of such interests. His concern is – could only be – the protection of that delicate flower known as the “healthy, stable, traditional family.” How such a “healthy” and “stable” entity could possibly be at any risk from alternatives practiced by a minority of citizens is beyond me. How enacting oppressively protectionist policies in the most private of all personal decisions can be defended when Republicans generally condemn such policies in the marketplace is also beyond me. Furthermore, how a family structure that has never truly dominated the mainstream can possibly be “traditional” is absolutely beyond me. The definition of a family has long been an individual household matter, often including extended family members, close friends, and even servants. Frankly, if anything has caused harm to children and parents, it’s been the alienation they have been exposed to within the artificial confines of the dyadic “nuclear” household.
Ironically, while Santorum expressed his loathing for the concept of individual privacy, his desire for states to have increased rights to regulate private behavior, and his apparent disrespect for the Fourth Amendment, he also opened a philosophical bottle with two genies not likely to go back inside without a fight.
The primary outrage against Santorum’s ugly honesty has largely been directed against his comments comparing same-sex behavior with adultery, bigamy, polygamy, and incest. He fears that if Lawrence v. Texas is overturned “other existing state laws" concerning morality issues could also be overturned. In other words, first gays will be allowed to love one another without liability – and then other supposedly non-traditional families might also demand that they be freed from oppression. American citizens might actually get an opportunity to decide what solutions best maintain the health and stability of their family as they define it – and not as someone who is not a member of that family structure defines it. If this happens, “monogamous relationships” – which Santorum incorrectly believes are the only family structures a healthy society can accommodate – will lose their exclusive grip on legal rights. And in this single thing, Santorum is right. If each family is given its natural right to self-determination, then the mythical social construct called the so-called “traditional” household will be show to be what it is – a Cold War ideal cooked up to drive consumerism and promote a very narrow view of family. What Santorum and those like him ignore is that with rights come responsibilities – and with more relationships able to openly participate in society, more families would be able to openly contribute.
As sympathetic as I am to the natural rights of adults to live in peace with partners of their choosing, something else in Santorum’s words chilled me even more. Throughout his April 7 interview, Santorum was effusive about his belief that the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right to privacy. He may very well be correct, but being correct does not necessarily mean that such a right does not exist – merely that the Founding Fathers did not anticipate a time when the government would have the audacity to think it had any business in the bedrooms of its citizens. In the Lawrence v. Texas case Santorum’s claims that he is “a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution” should lead him to support the gay men involved, for the same behavior between opposite-sex individuals is no longer proscribed and no probable cause justified the search of their home.
Where Santorum longingly envisions a world where laws that restrict personal conduct in one’s own home are constitutional, I see a world where “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” has no meaning. It is not a world in which I think any individual -- or any family – would be safe.