How Private is Private Morality? (Answer: Not Very)

By Richard Nelson

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August 14, 2014

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Richard Nelson, director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, writes in an editorial for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer that the city should ask itself whether an LGBT non-discrimination law is necessary. From his piece:

We were once told that somebody's private sexual life is nobody's business. Should this ordinance pass, it drags private sexual behavior into the workplace. Here's how: If employers shouldn't ask about somebody's private sex life during an interview and the prospective employee doesn't bring this up, then how can an employer be held accountable for failing to hire somebody based on their sexual orientation?

This is an important point and it locates the pivot on which so much of our cultural conversation is now turning. How private is our private life, really? The answers have changed. I’m not  talking about the advents of social media and other technological peepholes into our day to day existence. The question I’m asking is political and moral: How much of my private life is your business? How much of yours is mine? A generation ago a sexual revolution proclaimed that it was no longer under the authority of religion, tradition or historic moral boundaries; it announced that someone’s sex life was totally private and inextricable from their personhood and human rights. This is precisely the logic of Roe V. Wade and even moreso Lawrence V. Texas.

Most conservatives believe that privacy is an important thing; they simply disagree with how it was applied in those two landmark cases. Historically the Left has been on the forefront of privacy ideology. That seems to be changing, however. Today’s progressives do not view sexual orientation or gender identity as a personal matter but as a public matter, one that deserves codified protection and legal recourse in the face of any and all criticism. Josh Barro’s infamous Tweet about “stamping out” conservative views on homosexuality and gay marriage came with an unspoken preface: You actually have to go out and find the views before you can stamp them out.

The advent of liberal interest in bringing sexuality out of the bedroom means two things. First, traditionalists were incorrect when they accused progressives of moral relativism. “Relativism” might be the buzzword that was used to get an audience but it was never the point; the goal was to advance an alternative morality. Secondly, conservatives need to bid adieu to apologetic, hat-in-hand ideology that advances traditional morality while apologizing for it. That won’t do. This is not a private argument, it’s a public conflict. Conservatives should be open and staunch about the fact that traditional morality is what leads to greater liberty and human flourishing. It’s time to go public; the other side already has.

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center