Last edited: February 06, 2005

The Rights of Gay Americans

New York Times, March 27, 2003
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Thomas McLaughlin, who is 14, says he has been harassed because he is gay—by his own school. He and his family report that when officials at Jacksonville Junior High School in Arkansas learned that he was a homosexual, a counselor called his mother to inform her. And a teacher wrote a letter telling him he would go to hell. The Supreme Court should think of Mr. McLaughlin as it considers the gay rights case that it heard arguments in yesterday. More than 84 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, primarily in high school, are exposed to antigay comments from students or faculty over the course of a year, according to a national survey. More than one-third reported being physically harassed.

A main reason antigay discrimination continues in schools—and on the job and in the streets—is that the law has not been emphatic enough about protecting gay Americans. Some states, and many localities, have antidiscrimination laws. But the Supreme Court has put its considerable weight on the other side. In a much-criticized 1986 decision, Bowers v. Hardwick, the court held that the right of privacy does not extend to sexual relations between gays.

The Supreme Court now has a chance to right that wrong. Two Texas men are challenging their convictions for engaging in consensual sexual relations in a private home. They argue that Texas’s sodomy law deprives them of the right of intimate association other Americans enjoy. And they make a compelling case that the law renders gays second-class citizens. The fact that sodomy is illegal, they note, has been invoked to deny gay people jobs, deny them the protection of hate crime laws and bar them from visiting rights with their own children.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist seemed to defend the Texas law yesterday when he said, “Almost all laws are based on disapproval of some people or conduct.” That may be. But among the court’s most important decisions of the past half-century have been those that ban discrimination. Sodomy laws, which deprive homosexuals of the right to privacy that other Americans take for granted, violate this nation’s Constitution and its spirit. The court should strike down the Texas law and extend to gay Americans full equality under the law.

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