The Dangers of Dignity
There are a few reasons that the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage hasn’t felt as notable or huge as any of us might have expected. For one, lots of us already got accustomed to being gay-married. It was like, “Oh, now we’re… more married?” And then the 5–4 decision felt a bit ominous really, with the whole ozone-scent of a culture war hanging around it. There was also the whole A Tribute To The Majesty And Wonder Of Marriage thing, which of course is so distorting and insane, given what marriage is like both now and throughout history. (Like, kinda gross!)
People seem less willing to talk about this, but the majority decision seemed not only weak and ill-reasoned, but even dangerous.
This spring, during the gay marraige arguments, Jeffrey Rosen wrote about the court’s obsession with dignity. “The expansion of the constitutional right to dignity may produce far-reaching consequences that they will later have cause to regret,” he predicted. In short: everyone will go to the dignity well. Including? Of course: anti-choice litigators.
Any reasonable articulation of dignity, especially in the 21st century, would require an acknowledgement that the right to make decisions about one’s reproductive autonomy is central to human dignity….
But this reasonable articulation of dignity collapses under the weight of the anti-choice formulation of dignity — one which continues to be urged by the Catholic Church and one which found a home in Kennedy’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart. According to this perverse simulacrum of dignity, abortion rights usurp the dignity of motherhood (which is the only dignity that matters when it comes to women) insofar as it prevents women from fulfilling their rightful roles as mothers and caregivers. Women have an innate need to nurture, so the argument goes, and abortion undermines that right.
This formulation of dignity has been used by anti-choice legislators and tacticians in changing the abortion debate from “women are baby-killers” to “women are being victimized by baby-killing doctors.” And that last formulation is one which Kennedy embraced in Carhart.