The two words that come to mind after reading about the Supreme Court making same-sex marriage the law of the land are “anything goes.”
Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion has positioned our culture near the top of a generously-greased slope and there are plenty of people ready to give that culture a shove.
A case in point is the cover story of the most recent issue of the Economist, which appeared a few days before the Court’s ruling.
The cover reads “The Right to Die: Why assisted suicide should be legal.” Inside the magazine, the article began with the following words: “It is easy to forget that adultery was a crime in Spain until 1978; or that in America, where gay marriage is allowed by 37 states and may soon be extended to all others by the Supreme Court, the last anti-sodomy law was struck down only in 2003. Yet, although most Western governments no longer try to dictate how consenting adults have sex, the state still stands in the way of their choices about death. An increasing number of people—and this newspaper—believe that is wrong.” Wow.
Strictly speaking, this is a non-sequitur, because in strictly logical terms, what the state does or doesn’t do regarding sex between consenting adults is unrelated to its position on physician-assisted suicide.
But there is a very real cultural and worldview connection between the two. What the Economist is appealing to is our ideas about personal liberty and autonomy.
These ideas were at the heart of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. He began by saying that, in addition to the rights specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment guarantees “certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”
He added that “the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.” He then concluded by writing that, “There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.”
In other words, without autonomy, there is neither dignity nor freedom. (Now there’s a chilling thought for those whose lives depend on others for care). In fact, you could argue that, for Justice Kennedy, the point of freedom is to make personal autonomy possible. As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out in his dissent, the only restraint on this idea of autonomy is five Justices’ “reasoned judgment,” based on “‘new insight’ into the ‘nature of injustice,’ which was invisible to all who came before but has become clear ‘as we learn [the] meaning of liberty.’”
In other words, the judges are making it up as they go along.
And that brings me back to the Economist’s cover story. In 1997, the Supreme Court declined to find a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. That was a little bit of a surprise at the time. After all, Justice Kennedy had recently penned his “mystery passage” in the Planned Parenthood case, in which he defined liberty as “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
While the Court declined to go that far back then, 18 years is a long time, and I can only imagine what “new insights” might have taken hold since then. It would be folly to think that assisted suicide is settled law.
Likewise, it would be foolish to think that the legal redefinition of marriage will stop at same-sex marriage. As the dissenters pointed out, Kennedy’s case for same-sex marriage can also apply to polygamy.
As I said, “anything goes.” It can hardly be otherwise if individual autonomy is the definition of freedom.
— Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.