Sodomy Law Does It Really Prevent AIDS?
By Patricia Nell Warren, 1996
A Montana judge with a lot of guts has just issued a permanent injunction against the
states Deviate Conduct law. District judge Jeffrey Sherlock sees no reason to
regulate sex in private between consenting gay adults. The Christian Coalition and
reactionaries across the state are already screaming bloody murder about his decision.
They insist that sodomy laws prevent AIDS and deter homosexual behaviour.
Dream on. Sodomy laws do neither. This is a lesson of history that we are doomed to
repeat if we dont learn it now.
As a Montana native, I see the debates on gay sex and disease from my viewpoint on
frontier history. My greatgrandparents, Conrad and Augusta Kohrs, emigrated to Montana as
escapees from religious autocracy in Prussia. They were "progressives" (the word
for liberal in the good old days) and helped to humanize Montana law. My greatgrandmother
supported womens suffrage, and was a partner in the Kohrs ranch at a time when few
"decent" women dared to be openly associated with business. Her daughter Katie
married Dr. Robert Warren, my grandfather a pioneer reformer who brought humane
treatment to the state mental hospital.
As for the men, my greatgrandfather and his half-brother John Bielenberg helped write
the Montana constitution and served in the first legislatures. Bielenberg lived with the
tribes for a while. Both men kept solid alliances with native peoples in a time
where racism ruled Montana and were scornfully called "Indians" by other
Historians often whitewash the "good old days." Montana was one of the
roughest of the frontier states. Those times were hard on women, blacks, Asians, native
Americans, half-breeds of any kind, Jews, homesteaders, prostitutes, immigrants from south
or east Europe, queers, pagans, Wobblies, and anybody who wasnt a purebred
I was born in Helena in 1936, and spent my childhood visiting Augusta Kohrs till her
death in 1945. Four years later, at the age of 13, I first sensed I was
"different." The words "gay" didnt enter my ken for another two
decades, and I didnt come out till 1974, when I published one of the first
bestselling gay novels, The Front Runner, which is selling today.
History shows me that those who uphold stupid and unjust laws, whether in the pulpit or
courtroom or legislature, will lose the respect of thinking voters. Over the last century,
as the United States finally grew a social conscience, many bad laws have been changed.
All state law in the U.S. once held it immoral to let women vote. Many were the Bible
verses thundered from the pulpit in favor of keeping women barefoot, pregnant and
disenfranchised during my greatgrandmothers youth. It was also "immoral"
to sell mining claims to Chinese, let labor unions organize, allow white people to marry
non-whites, or let the tribes sun-dance. It was even "immoral" to stand in the
way of "divinely ordained" eminent domain as my greatgrandfather found
out when he helped sue the Anaconda Copper Company in the historic "smoke case"
a first effort to stop air-pollution.
In frontier Montana, "morality" was often enforced by vigilante operations.
Admittedly even my greatgrandfather helped the Vigilantes hang some of the Plummer gang.
Indeed, the word "vigilante" was coined in Montana. There were lynchings,
barn-burnings, dry-gulchings, public hangings, massacres of striking union members,
assassinations of union leaders, and other things that cause todays saner Montanans
to wince. Not to mention that gay men who got outed in the "good old days" were
tied to a wagon tail-gate and horsewhipped in public, or quietly castrated behind
Today, Montana and other states tolerate women voters, labor unions, Asians who own
property, mixed-blood marriages. Indeed, the laws now tolerate a lot of things that were
called "immoral" a century ago! But two dozen states still forbid adult
homosexuals to have consensual sex. Other states are seeking to re-activate their old
sodomy laws. What does this prove? Only that political expediency, and the most stubborn
kinds of bias, can drive some lawmakers and voters into the looniest kind of
Sodomy-law advocates arent consistent when they hype the Bible. Biblical texts
demand the death penalty for homosexuality. Lobbyists and legislators who go by the Bible
ought to be advocating death for adultery as well and for swearing, disrepect for
parents, working on Sunday, worshipping other gods than Jehovah. The Old Testament gives
American lawmakers a clear mandate to codify all these things as felonies! But reactionary
politicians and organizations like the Christian Coalition dont follow the mandate,
because it would be politicial suicide to criminalize most Americans in this broad
Sodomy laws dont stop AIDS. Anybody who says they do has their head in the sand
about how heterosexuals spread AIDS.
AIDS is being spread by the heterosexual sex industry. But what legislator is ready to
criminalize the many men, both married and single, who keep this industry going by
patronizing it? Few men are ever prosecuted for their complicity. The "john"
gets to take his covert infection home to his wife, girlfriend, casual date and often the
unborn child as well.
Hard times are spreading AIDS. Many homeless and unemployed women and teenagers
inevitably turn to prostitution for economic survival. As I listen to the Americans who
vent their outrage about teenage hustlers, I wonder how many of these self-righteous
loudmouths ever fight AIDS in a real-world way, by starting job programs for hard-up kids.
Prison rape spreads AIDS, as convictions rise. This is a nasty subject, but
heterosexuals must wake up to it. According to Stop Prisoner Rape, an estimated 350,000
men and boys are raped each year in our overcrowded prisons. SPR emphasizes that straight
men usually do the raping. Possibly one third of the victims (usually young first-timers)
may seroconvert. Most straight inmates are prohibited by machismo from revealing their
rape. Once released, these infected men can transmit HIV to the unsuspecting wife,
girlfriend, casual date, unborn child.
Heterosexual machismo itself helps spread AIDS. Unlike gay sex, which is pursued by
only a small percentage of American men, freewheeling straight machismo affects a high
percentage of men. A macho man in the throes of lust doesnt give a hoot about
health, his own or anyone elses. This is the kind of guy who slaps his girlfriend
around if she wants him to wear a condom. Even in the most church-going of times, American
machismo has operated blatantly.
As a child of Montana history, I know that machismo and disease have old, conmingled
roots. Staunch pioneer family men contracted syphilis and gonorrhea from the Victorian sex
industry, and infected their wives and children with these (then) incurable diseases.
Syphilis was the dread plague of the frontier. Yet nobody dared to criminalize those
heterosexual men as a group those tobacco-spitting miners, those businessmen in
mutton-chop whiskers the way homosexuals have been today!
Gay stigma on AIDS has led to heterosexual lying that directly threatens all of us.
From the many celebrity deaths that are fudged as "pneumonia" in the obituaries,
one can only guess at the cover-ups among all the non-celebrities among us
especially in conservative communities, where a desperate family might do anything in its
power to keep an illness or death from becoming known as AIDS.
Sodomy laws also dont prevent people from being gay. If it is true that
heterosexuality can be inculcated and enforced by law, then perhaps legislators should
codify all parents of gay kids as felons, and put them in prison too. After all, these
parents have violated the sodomy law by their "failure to teach
Every gay person my age grew up in defiance of universal sodomy law. In 1949, when I
was a freshman in high school, homosexuality was not publically discussed. There were no
gay books or AIDS education in Powell County High School in Montana. I was never molested
by a lesbian teacher. There was no liberal media, no free condoms none of the
"permissiveness" that todays reactionaries love to rant about. Church
conservatism was in complete control of my childhood world in fact, I was raised in
Presbyterian sunday school. So how, in this vast heterosexual vacuum, did I ever "get
taught" or "recruited" to be a dyke?
Lets face it sodomy laws are USELESS. They dont even prevent the
estimated 200,000 forcible penetrations that happen annually in our penal system! In fact,
sodomy convictions send gay men into prisons where they are expected to be
"punks" or "queens," and service the "men" (meaning the
heterosexuals). Prison officials mostly look the other way as they hear the screams of
young straight and gay men being "turned out." According to SPR, many male
inmates who went to prison as heterosexuals leave prison as functioning bisexuals.
Who are the advocates of sodomy law kidding?
I feel profoundly angry as I see the worst attitudes of the "good old days"
re-occupying my native state, and my country. Were back to the whippings at the
Attitudes, like wolves, run in packs. Voters and legislators will find themselves more
and more pressured to accept the whole reactionary package. Anti-gay goes along with
anti-feminist, anti-sex, anti-race, anti-ethnic, anti-free speech, anti-Earth, anti-any
religion that isnt Christianity.
Montana has already legalized some of this reactionary package. The new English-only
law has its roots in the worst historic dirt of hate for "furriners". The recent
disenfranchisement of Montanas tribes through re-drawing of voting districts is a
disgrace, and harks back to frontier hate for "redskins". New censorship laws in
several counties are shockingly invasive. If my greatgrandfolks were still around,
theyd have some scathing things to say. And my greatgrandmother might fix her
blazing blue eyes on the hordes of women who dont vote, and ask them if they deserve
the rights that her generation fought so hard to get.
Its hard to believe that the majority of Americans want this kind of reactionary
law, or the violence and agony that go with it. But are the saner citizens in EVERY state
willing to do the hard lobbying to get our legislators and political candidates off this
bloodthirsty reactionary bandwagon?
The 1996 Presidential campaign will show us ever more starkly what Remedial American
History 101 will be like, if this trend isnt stopped at the polls.
Email Patricia Nell Warren at Wildcat Press firstname.lastname@example.org
8306 Wilshire Blvd Box 8306, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Tel: 323-966-2466, Fax: 323-966-2467
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