Last edited: December 17, 2004

Let’s Talk About Sex

Panel Debates Lawrence v. Texas

Metro Weekly, March 27, 2003
1012 14th Street NW, Ste. 209, Washington, DC 20005
Fax: 202-638-6831

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 force.”

“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 know.”

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 year.

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