On this July 4, one truth could not be more evident. Sexual self-determination is fast becoming the most important legal right in the nation. Whether the issue is same-sex marriage or nation-wide health insurance coverage for abortion and contraception, the scales of justice are now tipped in favor of an individual's right to choose with whom to have sex, in what family arrangements, with what contraception, and disposing of any resulting pregnancy however they wish.
This development seems reasonable. What could be more personal or private than sexual choice? But it comes at an expense. Legal niceties aside, what the U.S. Supreme Court did in its recent decisions on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 was to choose between two competing classes of rights -- sexual rights and religious rights. In siding with same-sex marriage and against traditional marriage, the Supreme Court elevated sexual rights to a more important level. This is clear from Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the Windsor case, where he characterizes the religious and moral arguments behind DOMA as illegitimate and discriminatory.
The new supremacy of sexual freedom is equally clear from the on-going fight over the implementation of the Health and Human Services regulations, which require nearly all health insurance plans to cover abortion and contraception, with limited exceptions. So, on July 2, the U.S. Catholic bishops joined with Southern Baptist, Jewish, and Mormon leaders to call for greater conscience rights protections under the HHS regulations. At stake is whether the government will allow its citizens to act on their religious beliefs in their daily lives. If someone can act a certain way based on sexual preference, why can't someone act a different way based on religious preference?
Whether the majority of Americans agree with the religious view in question shouldn't matter in deciding to grant conscience protection. Why would a religious view need protection from government encroachment unless it was unpopular and disagreeable? As the July 2 joint letter states:
Decades ago, the Supreme Court found a right to abortion in part stemming from the unstated right to privacy existing in the penumbra of the Ninth Amendment. Days ago, the Supreme Court stopped just short of finding a right to same-sex marriage in the penumbra of the Fifth Amendment. But there is no need to search for penumbras when it comes to religious rights. The Constitution states clearly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." To protect sexual freedom at the expense of religious freedom turns the Constitution on its head.Many of the signatories on this letter do not hold doctrinal objections to the use of contraception. Yet we stand united in protest to this mandate .... Whether or not we agree with the particular conscientious objection is beside the point. HHS continues to deny many Americans the freedom to manifest their beliefs through practice and observance in their daily lives.