Justice Thomas, in his fervent dissent to the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate same-sex marriage bans, has some interesting things to say about the concept of dignity. His view of human dignity is that it is innate and therefore inalienable: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them.”
The punchline, of course, is that the majority’s reasoning, which relies heavily on a Constitutional reading that sees dignity at the heart of liberty and the Due Process Clause, is flawed – gays and lesbians are not deprived of dignity (and therefore liberty) by their inability to marry, because “the government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.” Essentially, Justice Thomas says, as long as the state leaves me alone, my liberty and dignity are intact.
Justice Thomas’s invocation of slavery and internment to illustrate his qualms about the dignity argument arguably undermines the moral force of his point. Moreover, it rests on a narrow and theoretical concept of dignity.