Overjoyed, Conservatives Despair Over Sodomy Ruling
Jose Mercury News, June 26, 2003
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By Lisa Leff, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO—In a gesture of
gratitude for the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday striking down a Texas
anti-sodomy law, gay-rights activists lowered the huge rainbow flag that
always flies over the city’s Castro District and hoisted the Stars and
Stripes in its place.
Members of a local American Legion Post made up of gay
men unfurled the American flag, then saluted and sang the “Star-Spangled
Banner,” as residents marveled that a goal they had been seeking for so long
had been realized.
“The symbolism of the nation’s highest court
recognizing the validity of gay relationships is just really important for the
community because it shows we live in a society where we can create change
with laws, not violence,” said Geoffrey Kors, director of Equality
The noontime flag-raising ceremony marked only the second
time that the American flag has been raised at Harvey Milk Plaza, a landmark
honoring the city’s first openly gay supervisor, who was assassinated in
1978. The first time was in tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist
The high court’s 6-3 decision overturned not only the
Texas statute but apparently swept away laws in a dozen other states that ban
oral and anal sex for everyone, or for homosexuals in particular.
The case involved two men who were jailed overnight and
ordered to pay $200 fines in 1998 after police, responding to a false
complaint of an armed intruder, entered their apartment and discovered them
having sex in their bedroom.
“We never chose to be public figures or to take on the
spotlight. We also never thought we could be arrested this way,” said one of
the men, John Lawrence. “We are glad this ruling not only lets us get on
with our lives, but opens the door for all gay people to be treated
Gay-rights groups had regarded the challenge to the law
banning certain sex acts between same-sex couples as one of their most
important legal cases in decades. On Thursday, they said the high court’s
ruling would help protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in other areas
“For years, whenever we have sought equality, we’ve
been answered both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion with
the claim that we are not entitled to equality because our love makes us
criminals,” said James Esseks, litigation director of the ACLU’s Lesbian
and Gay Rights Project. “That argument—which has been a serious block to
progress—is now a dead letter.”
While gay men and lesbians across the country similarly
exulted over the high court’s ruling, conservative groups, spurred on by
Justice Antonin Scalia’s blistering dissent, predicted the ruling would lead
to gay marriage—and worse.
“The implications for other sexual crimes is
unmistakable,” said Scott Lively, director of the Pro Family Law Center in
Sacramento, which filed a brief supporting the Texas law. “If the state
doesn’t have even a legitimate interest in criminalizing sodomy ... how can
the state continue to regulate against group sexual encounters, sadomasochism,
sex between brothers and sisters, sex with animals and sex with corpses?”
But Ruth Harlow, who argued the case before the Supreme
Court as legal director of Lambda Legal, said the court was merely “catching
up” with public opinion.
The Supreme Court was criticized by civil rights groups
17 years ago when it upheld Georgia’s sodomy law. Georgians later repealed
that law, and now, “82 percent of Americans have already expressed the view
that these kinds of laws are inappropriate. State after state have repealed
them,” she said.
Reaction was especially strong in those states with
sodomy laws still on the books—Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, Florida,
Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and
“It could have been a historic day just for Texas, but
it’s a historic day, period,” said Paul Scott, executive director of the
Dallas-based John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Resource Center.
The president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, John
Giles, agreed with Justice Anthony Kennedy that personal privacy should be
protected, but said he worries that the decision will further a national
campaign to legalize marriage between gays.
“God have mercy on America,” he said.
In Missouri, gay-rights activists who have spent years
lobbying state lawmakers to repeal that state’s sodomy law said it was great
to have the Supreme Court finish the job.
“This is something that has been a black eye on our
Supreme Court and our country and in Missouri for years,” said Jeff Wunrow,
executive director of PROMO, a Missouri gay rights organization.
Mathew D. Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, an
Orlando, Fla.-based religious rights group, said cultural conservatives would
not let the decision stand unchallenged.
“The split decision underscores the importance of the
next Supreme Court appointment, not only on the issue of abortion but now on
the issue of same-sex unions,” he said. “Regulating homosexual conduct and
marriage is the right of the people to be exercised through the legislative
rather than judicial branches of government.”
Scalia noted that in the past half-century, there have
been 134 reported cases involving prosecutions for consensual, adult,
homosexual sodomy. Though seldom enforced by police in recent years, the Texas
law and its cousins are still invoked by judges at times to deny homosexuals
legal custody of their children, equal employment guarantees and other civil
That the high court’s ruling came in June, the month
traditionally reserved for gay pride celebrations across the country, made the
victory all the more sweet for gay rights advocates.
“It’s hard for gay people to explain how freeing it
is that our lovemaking has been recognized as no longer illegal in a place we
call America,” said Terry Anderson, 44, as he watched the flag getting
raised in San Francisco.
Gay advocacy groups from Alaska to Florida planned to
celebrate into the night.
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