Pennsylvania Senator and chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus Rick Santorum has hit the buzz saw of history with his recent comments on homosexuality. Santorum told the Associated Press: "I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions."
Santorum claimed that he was just offering his opinion of the case now before the U.S. Supreme Court in which two gay men are challenging Texas' sodomy laws. In this case, two men, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, were arrested by police answering a false report of "an armed man going crazy." Instead, upon entering Lawrence's home, the police found them engaged in anal sex. Texas' Homosexual Conduct Law punishes certain private sex acts when they are committed by same-sex couples, but not by heterosexuals.
Amusingly, Santorum carefully told the AP that he did not oppose just homosexual acts but also "acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships." Therefore, to be consistent, Santorum would presumably oppose the Texas sodomy law on the grounds that it permits heterosexuals to get away with such "non-traditional" activities as oral and anal sex and anything to do with whipped cream.
However, most news stories have overlooked the more chilling fact that Santorum's views on homosexuality came up in the broader context of the right to privacy. Santorum thinks that privacy is a bad idea.
"If you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this 'right to privacy,' then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it," said Santorum according to the transcript of his AP interview.
Santorum is undoubtedly right—if people feel freer of the constraints imposed by the prying eyes of their neighbors, they will explore different ways of expressing themselves and enjoying life. This traditionally was why many people fled farms and small towns for the anonymity of the big cities. As the German aphorism says, "City air makes men free." Privacy allows people to engage in all kinds of activities of which others might disapprove, ranging from religious worship, membership in dissident groups, recreational drug use, reading pornography, and yes, consensual sex acts between adults. The rising demand by Americans for an expanding sphere of privacy is the buzz saw into which Santorum stumbled.
Just consider the change in American attitudes toward homosexuality over the past three decades. Futurist Alvin Toffler suggested in his 1970 classic Future Shock, "As homosexuality becomes more socially acceptable, we may even begin to find families based on homosexual 'marriages' with partners adopting children." This was a scandalous notion at the time, but today 21 states have precedents allowing gay couples to adopt. As all the world knows, Vermont now permits "civil unions" between same sex couples.
Polls indicate that Americans are becoming more accepting of homosexuality. A Gallup poll in the late 1990s showed a declining majority (59 percent) of Americans still agreed with Santorum that homosexuality is "always wrong." That is most likely an expression of their religious convictions. But in what could be interpreted as strong support for their fellow citizens' privacy rights, recent polls find that in the same time period, 52 percent of Americans regarded homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle while 44 percent found it unacceptable. Furthermore, 54 percent favored legalizing consensual homosexual activity between adults, while only 42 percent opposed legalization.
Santorum believes that acceptance of homosexuality and other "deviant" sexual practices is "antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family." Just as Toffler was prophetic about the growing acceptance of homosexuality, he was also prescient about what would likely happen to family structures. "Minorities experiment; majorities cling to the forms of the past. It is safe to say that large numbers of people will refuse to jettison the conventional idea of marriage or the familiar family forms. They will, no doubt, continue searching for happiness within the orthodox format."
So relax, Senator Santorum, and leave people alone. It's none of your business anyway.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.