Column: Right Decision, Wrong Case
November 30, 1998
Box 4167, Macon, GA 31213
By Dana Dratch
Talk about doing the right thing for the wrong reason. When the Georgia Supreme Court
finally declared the state's sodomy law illegal, gay rights groups and civil libertarians
celebrated. Who can blame them? On first glance it looked like a good step toward dragging
the dusty legal code into the 20th century -- just in time to witness dawn of the 21st.
Sure, the ruling is a victory for personal liberty -- gay and straight. And it's been a
long time in coming. Too bad Georgia couldn't have received the same ruling when the issue
was before the court two years ago. Too bad privacy advocates couldn't find a better
posterboy than Anthony Powell.
Powell is certainly no freedom rider. His under-age niece charged him with rape. His
lawyers claim the girl consented. Big deal.
Faced with evidence of sexual contact and a "he said/she said" story, the
jury could not convict him on the rape charge.
But, in this one case, the state's antiquated sodomy law actually served a practical
purpose. It gave the jury a chance to get around all the legal maneuvering and deal with
the bigger picture: an adult who preys on a minor -- especially a relative -- deserves
Unfortunately for Powell's victim, the incident didn't end there. Since his sole
conviction was for sodomy, Powell became a perfect test case for putting the law before a
newly liberal state Supreme Court.
Last week, the court formally recognized what most of the rest of us have realized for
years: What goes on between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home is their
On the downside, it means Powell -- out on bail pending his appeal -- will skate with a
mere 14 months served.
Georgia has been divided for years over the right to privacy in the bedroom. The sodomy
law was regularly challenged by gays and straights alike. The conservative court struck it
down every time.
So who is the torch-bearer when the state finally makes national news? A nice married
couple? A nice gay couple? No, instead, the civil rights "victim" is a guy
convicted of sexually molesting an underage relative.
Jerry Springer, here we come.
While attempting to be foresighted and forward-thinking, the court's action reinforced
in the national consciousness every backwards, backwoods stereotype we've been trying to
outrun since "Deliverance."
After green-lighting underage sex with a minor, why not mandate moonshine, allow
cousins to marry and forbid children under 12 from wearing shoes? Granted, you can't
always pick your battles.
But while the spin-meisters try to distract us with what a charming figure we're
cutting on the nightly news, the truth is that -- in this particular case -- the system
rewarded a man who used and abused a young girl.
Where's N.O.W. now?
Do the men and women who praised the ruling as a victory for personal freedom realize
that they've sacrificed a sister or daughter to get there?
Can we ever move beyond gay and straight to see in terms of right and wrong?
Of all the cases to use to test the sodomy law, this was the wrong one. While privacy
advocates are celebrating, they should be grieving. One girl lost her privacy, her dignity
and her right to say no. By cheering, even supporting, her abuser, gay and civil rights
groups are jeering her and others like her.
Score one for Georgia in finally decriminalizing homosexuality and removing government
from the bedrooms of consenting adults.
But dock the state two points for abandoning its children and women in the process.
It's is a hollow victory.
Dana Dratch is an editorial columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Her phone number is
744-4394; or you can reach her by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Home] [Editorials] [Georgia]