Romancing a blow-up doll is a private right

MIAMI - Sherri Williams took sex toys to the Supreme Court. Again.

The first time was in 2005, but justices declined to hear the case. Williams is hoping for better luck this time. Otherwise, a Valentine's Day ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will stand and a ban on the purchase of sex toys in Alabama - enacted in 1998 but not enforced pending the outcome of litigation - will go into effect.

Any Alabamian seeking an inflatable girlfriend or battery-

operated boyfriend will have to buy it out of state (possession is still legal). But in-state retailers such as Williams will be out of business. And get this: The court reasoned that the ban is constitutional because Alabama has an interest "in preserving and promoting public morality."

Public. Morality.

Beg pardon, but unless people were using Williams' merchandise on park benches, it's hard to see what public morality has to do with this. Hard to see anything, in fact, except another government intrusion into the most private and intimate details of our lives. One need not be an Alabama purveyor of sex toys to be profoundly troubled by that.

President Reagan said, "Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem." The quote comes, of course, from his first inaugural address, a declaration of war against a federal government he saw as oversized and overreaching, taxing too heavily, spending too freely and regulating too tightly.

For a long time, Reagan's words were the prime directive of the

U.S. conservative movement. But something has happened to that movement in the 26 years since he spoke. Those who once promised to get government off the backs of the people, who swore an oath against its intrusion into our lives, now gleefully use it to poke, prod, peer and interfere in the most private aspects of our existence.

The reasoning - "rationalization" would be a better word - is always that someone has transgressed morality. Which is just a way of saying someone has done something the conservatives disapprove. And that raises the obvious question: How do they get to define morality for the rest of us? If freedom means anything, doesn't it mean we get to make that decision for ourselves?

It should. And yet:

In 1998, police in Houston break into a private home and arrest two men for having sex in violation of Texas law.

In 2003, near Fort Worth, a woman is arrested for holding Tupperware-style parties in her home to sell sex toys.

In 2005, the president, the Congress and the governor of Florida go to bizarre and extra-legal lengths to keep Michael Schiavo from making a tough end-of-life decision on behalf of his wife, Terri.

In 2007, this.

The issue is not sex, it is not death and it is not morality. It is, rather, the fact that you and I have certain rights, chief among them the right to be left alone if we're not bothering anybody. But conservative lawmakers, the same people who think corporations should be left alone in matters of pollution and public safety, seem to think they have a perfect right to break down the bedroom door of some schmoe romancing a blow-up doll.

At best, these people are amnesiacs wandering far afield from principles they once claimed to hold sacred. At worst, they are appalling hypocrites. I lean toward the latter.

And I offer them this reading from the book of Reagan: "It is no coincidence," he said, "that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government."

A little reminder for those who have evidently forgotten.

Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, can be reached at lpitts@miamiherald.com.