Sodomy Ruling Is A Wake-Up Call For Georgians
By Devon Clayton
March 21,1996, page 8
You are a threat to the "moral welfare" of the state. Your sexual expression
is against the law - punishable by up to 20 years in prison. And don't even think about
getting legally married.
That was the message from our morally upstanding elected officials last week, in a
stunning one-two punch to gays and lesbians in Georgia. First, the state Supreme Court
upheld Georgia's sodomy law, ruling that this musty statute which criminalizes "any
sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another"
somehow is compatible with the right to privacy. Then, three days later, a bill barring
same-sex marriage passed the General Assembly (we are 1 of only 4 other states that has
done this so far).
And as though that wasn't enough, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals last week erased
one of the few victories gays and lesbians have had lately. The court chose to set aside a
ruling in favor of lesbian lawyer Robin Shahar, who was denied a job by Attorny General
Michael Bowers when he learned she was getting married to a woman. Rather than let stand a
ruling that Bowers (who will likely run for governor in 1998) violated Shahar's right, the
court will rehear the case.
All in all, a bad week for queers - and for any straight person who likes sex that is
more exotic than in the missionary position for purposes of procreation. While the
marriage bill and the Court of Appeals decision are setbacks, the sodomy ruling is a loud
and clear wake-up call to all gays, lesbians and progressives in the state.
The timing of the sodomy ruling could not have bee more symbolic. It was exactly 10
years ago that another Georgia sodomy case handed the gay and lesbian community its
biggest setback to that point, when the US Supreme Court, in Bowers v. Hardwick, held that
state sodomy laws do not violate the US Constitution. At the time, Chief Jusice Warren
Burger argued to legitimize sodomy as a constitutionally protected right "would be to
cast aside millenia of moral teaching."
"Moral" concern again reared its hydra head in last week's Christensen v.
State ruling. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugh P. Thompson proclaimed, "We hold
that the proscription against sodomy is legitimate and valid exercise of state police
power in futherance of the moral welfare of the public."
So much for seperation of church and state.
The Hardwick ruling and the sodomy laws it upheld continue to provide legal backbone
for countless efforts to block gay rights. Sodomy laws give teeth to the homophobia that
arises from church doctrine and ancient prejudice, giving judges a reason to strip custody
from gay parents, employers to deny jobs and fire at will, schools to block teachers from
discussing homosexuality in a positive or even a neutral light - and endless range of
punishments both large and small that we, as "criminals," have little recourse
The decision in Hardwick was close and fiercely debated; the vote was 5-4, and Justice
Lewis Powell, who cast the swing vote, later said that it was the one vote he regretted
and wished he could change. Imagine, for a moment, what your life would be like if Powell
had voted the other way and sodomy statutes had been struck down across the land. If the
Supreme Court had taken the radical position that "life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness" extended to lesbian and gay Americans, how might your life be different
today? If you are a lesbian or gay parent, you could seek custody of your children without
fear of a "morality" ruling by a judge. With or without children, you could work
and live where you want. You would be a full-fledged citizen, with rights.
But, thanks to the US, and Georgia Supreme Courts, you're not. You may have bars to
dance in, restaurants to eat in, gyms to pump yourself up in, and even a big pride parade
every June, but no rights. You can not legally have sex or even talk about sex (that would
be solicitation). So much for freedom of speech.
In the wake of this decision, activists from the Georgia Equality Project are calling
on the gay community - all organizations and every individual - to attend an emergency
town meeting at 3 pm on Saturday, April 13, at the Wyndham Hotel on 10th Street in Midtown
to determine a course of action for the community to take. I urge all of you to attend.
(For more info, call 770-662-4030.)
In the meantime, write down these names and remember them when election time comes
around. The five Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold the sodomy law are Hugh P.
Thompson, Robert Benham, Georga H. Carley, Norman S. FLetcher and P. Harrie Hines. The two
who voted to strike the law are Leah J. Sears and Carol W. Hunstein.
And don't forget Attorney General Michael Bowers, who has twice scored a major victory
against us with the Georgia sodomy law and is the defendant in the Shahar case. Whenever
he chooses to run, whether for governor or Attorney General or any other office, we must
make defeating him a top priority.
See you on April 13.