Last edited: February 06, 2005

Sodomy Ruling Not End of The World

Chicago Sun-Times, July 2, 2003
401 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
Fax: 312-321-2120

By Cindy Richards

Way back when former President Bill Clinton whiled away his days with philosophical discussions of what the definition of “is” is, I was whiling away my days reading letters sent to the editor of the Sun-Times.

Writers send everything from long, thoughtful position papers to short, not-so-sweet diatribes. But, in three years of reading as many as 200 letters a week (and a much longer career reading a similar collection of responses to my weekly columns), there is one letter that has stood out in my memory.

It came from an elderly woman and was written in a painstakingly shaky hand. It asked a simple question: “What is oral sex, anyway?”

Coming, as it did, during a time when oral sex was the subject of front page stories, it struck me as a real symbol of the speed of change in our culture. While most survivors of the 1960s were spending their time trying to figure out how to explain those front page stories to their pre-adolescents, this woman, who came of age long before the sexual revolution, was trying to figure out what all the fuss was about.

I have been thinking about her all week because she’s probably writing a letter to the editor right now that asks, “What is sodomy, anyway?”

Well, it’s the practice of oral or anal sex and, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling last week, it’s legal in America, provided it’s happening between two consenting adults in private.

The ruling, which has sent a chill through the more conservative factions of the country and was reason for celebration in the gay community, reversed an earlier court decision 17 years ago that said it was OK for states to legislate what consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

In a love-the-sinner-but-hate-the-sin defense, the State of Texas had argued that its anti-sodomy laws did not discriminate against homosexuals because it was targeted only at homosexual acts, not the people performing them.

In his vigorous dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia makes two arguments: 1) that the court looks foolish in overturning itself so soon and 2) that the court looks even more foolish because it didn’t overturn Roe vs. Wade when it had the chance in 1992, at least partly because overturning that decision so hastily would have given the impression of judicial indecision.

Interestingly, opponents of the sodomy ruling now are warning that it is the next step down that slippery slope toward homosexual marriage. This is a fear I have never understood.

Opponents of homosexuality wrap themselves in moral outrage at the possibility that gays and lesbians might be offered special rights. But “special rights” are necessary only because we refuse to offer gays and lesbians the same rights and responsibilities we heterosexuals enjoy.

If same-sex couples were allowed the same joy and agony of forming and breaking legally sanctioned marriage bonds, they wouldn’t need domestic partnership registries, human rights protection or any of the other programs set up especially for them.

For reasons I have never understood, the fact that two men or two women might choose to marry is seen as somehow threatening to those of us who have formed traditional, religiously sanctioned families. But a quick look at census data shows that we already are an endangered species. Those of us who are married with children composed 40 percent of American households in 1970. Today, we have dwindled to just 24 percent, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

How is the possibility that two men or two women might choose to legalize their love into a marriage any more threatening to my marriage than, say, the possibility that a heterosexual couple might divorce, choose to marry another, shuttle kids between two homes, choose to remain single or choose to send the children to live with Grandma or Aunt May?

The fact that other people choose to form families in other ways might not conform with your idea of moral correctness, but it is no threat to my family. Or to yours.

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