Talk About Sex
Panel Debates Lawrence v. Texas
Weekly, March 27, 2003
1012 14th Street NW, Ste. 209, Washington, DC 20005
By Will Doig
On the first full day of war in Iraq, a panel converged
at the National Press Building to debate a different kind of struggle, once
famously put as the struggle for “the right to be let alone.”
Playing to a sparsely filled room, the discussion was
sponsored by the D.C. chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists
Association (NLGJA) and focused on the pending Supreme Court case, Lawrence v.
Texas. The case will decide the constitutionality of state sodomy laws.
Yesterday, the court heard oral arguments (after Metro Weekly’s press time).
Patricia Logue, a senior attorney at the Lambda Legal
Defense and Education Fund, characterized the arrest of Texans John Lawrence
and Tyron Garner for “deviate sexual intercourse” as what lawyers call
“clean,” meaning an arrest that involves “no minors, no money and no
“This includes not just a conviction” for Lawrence
and Garner, said Logue. “They can be denied a license for various things,
and they have to register as sex offenders in some states.”
Peter Sprigg, Senior Director of Culture Studies for the
Family Research Counsel and a Baptist minister (though he asked the audience
to think of him as a journalist) suggested that maybe the case was “a little
too clean” because the only written record of it is a one-page arrest form.
He asserted that because the record is so brief, there’s no way of proving
that the sex was not prostitution or even rape.
“Or it could have taken place in front of a picture
window, which would make it public indecency,” he said. “We don’t
Logue also argued that the debate over sodomy laws is
between individuals and government, and that the majority population does not
have the right to dictate such things.
Sprigg disagreed, saying that sodomy is an issue of
“public morals” as well as public health and protection of marriage. He
also pointed out that many types of consensual sex are prohibited by law,
including prostitution and polygamy.
Chris Bull, Washington correspondent for The Advocate,
grilled Sprigg on how he reconciled his belief that gays have a
disproportionate gravity of influence and power in American society with his
belief that the percentage of people who are gay is grossly overestimated and
is actually only one or two percent. Sprigg insisted that gays exert their
influence through the power of the media. Bull then asked him if he felt the
same way about Jews, to which Sprigg looked at the ceiling while emitting a
long “Uhh. “ before eventually answering with one word, “No.”
Joan Biskupic, a Supreme Court correspondent for USA
Today, offered her insight into possible outcomes of the case. She said that
the although the court prefers “adherence to precedent, the nation has been
steadily moving away from treating gays as second-class citizens.”
Biskupic predicted that Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and
Thomas would rule for Texas, calling Rehnquist “a predictable man in every
way.” All three dissented when the Court overturned Colorado’s anti-gay
measure, Amendment 2. Rehnquist, one of the three remaining justices since
Bowers v. Hardwick upheld Georgia’s anti-gay sodomy law in 1986, ruled with
the majority on that case, as did O’Connor.
But Biskupic believes O’Connor may rule differently
this time around, partly because of changing attitudes and partly because
O’Connor, who turned 73 yesterday, has legacy on her mind.
The third current Court justice who presided over Bowers
v. Hardwick is Stevens, who voted against the sodomy statute. There is no
reason to believe he won’t do so again.
Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer all ruled against Amendment 2
and are also expected to rule that Texas’ sodomy law is unconstitutional.
That leaves only Kennedy, who, along with O’Connor, is
often the swing vote on matters like these. Biskupic said it’s too close to
call, but if forced to choose, said that Kennedy is more likely to vote
against the law, based on his pro-gay vote on Amendment 2.
The Court is expected to reach a decision by June of this
[Home] [News] [Lawrence