Dignity’s meaning is famously contested. This essay explores competing claims on dignity in late twentieth-century debates over abortion and in the first decisions on the constitutionality of abortion legislation that these debates prompted. Advocates and judges appealed to dignity to vindicate autonomy, to vindicate equality, and to express respect for the value of life itself. Appeals to these distinct conceptions of dignity are now appearing in debates over the regulation of same-sex relations. Analyzed with attention to competing claims on dignity, we can see that in the debate over same-sex relations, as in the debate over abortion, a crucial question recurs: Do laws that restrict non-procreative sexuality violate or vindicate human dignity? Agonists who hold fundamentally different views about sexuality share an allegiance to dignity, enough to fight for the authority to establish dignity’s meaning in debates over sexual freedom. Today, as in the 1970s, dignity’s meaning is being forged in cross-borders conflict over dignity’s sex.
I am looking forward to reading this and thinking about Canadian jurisprudence which has struggled to define and operationalize “dignity” in a variety of equality rights contexts. See for instance, Denise Reaume, Discrimination & Dignity available on SSRN here.