Last edited: December 06, 2004

Editorial: A Walk Down Loversí Lane

The stateís high court strikes down sodomy enforcement, but extremely private personal activities should not be conducted in public places.

Cape Cod Times, February 25, 2002
319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601
Fax: 508-775-7337

Itís every pre-school teacherís nightmare: Leading the flock on a little walk in the woods and coming upon a couple having sex along the trail.

The stateís Supreme Judicial Court affirmed last week that only the public nature of such an act should interest policeónot the gender of the couple.

Mostly male sex in parks and highway rest areas has long been an occasional target of police sweeps. The same isnít true of heterosexuals in "loversí lane." The court ruled, in a case brought by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, that previous rulings protecting private, consensual sex among adultsóand laying out the participantsí duty to stay out of sightóalso extend to acts covered in the stateís antique sodomy laws.

In effect, the ruling erases one cornerstone legal motivation for police raids of gay "cruising areas." Thatís good, because gay men have long complained that such raids often seemed to be conducted more for sport than for public safety.

The executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts predicts the ruling will only encourage lewd displays of public behavior. "It means people wonít be able to take their children walking in the Blue Hills. It means people wonít be able to use rest stops," said C.J. Doyle.

Insofar as Doyle, by his examples, seems to object only to homosexual couples, his complaints illustrate precisely the problem the court seeks to address. Obviously, heterosexual couples should also be enjoined from sex that might burden or embarrass others in public places. The fact remains, however, that a certain subset of gay males is still likely to arouse the most public disdain because of their preference for sex in public places. And that presence does inhibit use by the majority.

There is still a public interest in keeping sex private, and the law affirms that. The ruling implies that, instead of policing, the way to keeping public places free of embarrassing encounters is common courtesy and a personal sense of public-spiritedness in those who choose to frolic outdoors.

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