Last edited: February 13, 2005

Gays Await Rights Ruling from Supreme Court

Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, June 6, 2003
P. O. Box 569, Santa Rosa, CA 95402
Fax: 707-546-2437

By Cecilia M. Vega, The Press Democrat

A Supreme Court ruling expected this month on a potentially historic case for gay rights could fall on the heels of this weekend’s Sonoma County Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade and Celebration.

As the North Bay’s gay community prepares for its most celebrated event of the year, community leaders are eagerly awaiting the ruling on a Texas “homosexual conduct” law that criminalizes sex between same-sex couples.

“I don’t want the Supreme Court to pee on our parade,” said Jim Spahr, president of the North Bay chapter of PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “Anytime there is a negative ruling ... it helps send a signal that it’s OK to beat up on people with minority sexual orientation.”

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case, Lawrence vs. Texas, in March and is expected to issue its ruling this month.

At issue is whether the Texas law violates the U.S. Constitution by making it illegal for gay couples, but not heterosexual couples, to engage in certain sexual activity. Oklahoma, Wyoming and Missouri also have similar anti-sodomy laws specific to gay couples.

Gay-rights groups say the Texas law discriminates against gay citizens and violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. They also say it intrudes on personal liberties.

“As long as they are of age and consenting adults treating each other with respect, it’s none of my business” what goes on inside their home, Spahr said.

Even though California repealed its sodomy law in 1976, local gay-rights organizations say the ruling will have a far-reaching impact on all gay communities.

Nine other states have laws that criminalize oral and anal sex, but the statutes apply to both gay and heterosexual adults.

“I certainly hope that times have changed and that the Supreme Court will see that it’s necessary to protect everyone’s privacy,” said Pam Adinoff, coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Petaluma. “It’s not just states rights. It’s personal (rights).”

Lawyers defending the Texas law have said the case centers on states’ rights.

“Various states have changed their position on sodomy. They’ve done it through the legislative process, and that’s where we believe this belongs, in the statehouse of Texas, not this court,” Charles A. Rosenthal Jr., the district attorney for Harris County, Texas, told the Supreme Court justices during the case’s March arguments.

Organizers of this year’s Sonoma County Pride Weekend suspect discussion of the Supreme Court case will emerge among political speakers at the event.

Since New York celebrated the country’s first gay pride march in 1970 in response to law enforcement raids on gay bars, the movement has seen significant changes.

This year, Sonoma County will mark its 13th gay pride weekend, which culminates with a parade through Santa Rosa on Sunday afternoon.

“We’re really lucky in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County,” said Larry Trent, president of the Sonoma County Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee. “We’ve come full circle to the point where the police are embracing us and are actively participating in our parade.”

Gay-rights advocates said the Supreme Court has a chance to provide a boost to civil rights.

“If nothing else, a positive ruling would be one more affirmation ... that would say we’re making progress,” Spahr said. “We’re not there by a long shot, but we’re making progress.”

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