Thwarting the Sex Police
December 15, 1998
435 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
On Sept. 17, sheriffs deputies in Houston got a call reporting an intruder in an
apartment. When they arrived at the home and entered the front door, they found no burglar
only a couple engaged in sex. Normally, the deputies would have apologized for the
mistake and beaten a hasty retreat. But the couple they interrupted were gay men, and
Texas law prohibits sexual relations between people of the same sex.
So the men were arrested, charged with committing sodomy and jailed overnight. They
pleaded no contest and paid a fine of $125 each.
The real punishment, however, is not the monetary sanction. Its the shocking
indignity of being treated like a criminal for engaging in consensual adult sex. As a
lawyer representing the two men said, "The government should not be in the business
of policing the private, consensual sexual relations of people." But in 19 states,
the law tells grownups what sort of carnal enjoyment is allowed behind closed doors and
what is not.
Such outrages may still occur in Texas and other places. Fortunately, though, they are
a thing of the past in Georgia. There, a man accused of sexually assaulting his
17-year-old niece testified that she had consented to sex. The jury then convicted him of
sodomy, which in Georgia includes oral sex between heterosexuals, and he served 14 months
But last month, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the law as a violation of privacy
rights under the state constitution. "While many believe that acts of sodomy, even
those involving consenting adults, are morally reprehensible," said the court,
"this repugnance alone does not create a compelling justification for state
regulation of the activity."
Twelve years ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld the very same Georgia law
against a constitutional challenge. But the trend in the states is the other way. In 1960,
all 50 states had laws against sodomy.
The only thing to be said for sodomy laws is they are not rigorously enforced. Since
they outlaw activity engaged in by the majority of both heterosexual and homosexual
Americans, they couldnt be. But they occasionally are enforced, as in these two
cases, with palpably unjust results. And they are often used as an excuse for firing an
employee or rejecting a parents request for custody of his or her children.
Americans disagree about the proper role for government in various spheres. But most
will readily and rightly agree it does not belong in our bedrooms.
[Home] [USA] [Editorials]