Last edited: January 01, 2005

Consenting Adults

Equality at issue in high court anti-sodomy case

Philadelphia Inquirer, December 6, 2002
PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA, 19101
Fax: 215-854-4483

Many heterosexuals believe the gay rights effort has been successful and that gays are generally treated equally in both the workplace and society.

Think again. Gays and lesbians point to continuing discrimination against them in jobs, churches, and the military. They note the hatefulness of antigay campaigns, such as the one conducted by virulent antigay Kansas preacher Fred Phelps, who plans to target Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley this weekend.

Gays also can point to an irrefutable fact: 13 states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books; the laws in four of those states specifically criminalize sex between homosexuals.

Some might argue that they’re rarely enforced anachronisms—like old laws forbidding driving on Sundays, for instance.

But two Texas gay men, John Geddes and Tyron Garner, have reason to disagree. In 1998, sheriff’s deputies came to their apartment to investigate a false "weapons disturbance" call. Instead, they found the two men having sex and arrested them, charging both—under Texas law—with deviate sexual intercourse. They were convicted and fined.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the men’s challenge to the Texas law, which specifically criminalizes sex between people of the same sex. Gay rights groups are applauding the high court’s decision to hear the case—and rightly so.

It was only a short 16 years ago, in 1986, that the Supreme Court upheld anti-sodomy laws, with a 5-4 vote, on the grounds that throwing them out would "cast aside millennia of moral teaching." Gays are hoping the court is reconsidering the issue because it now realizes such laws are wrong.

And they are.

Anti-sodomy laws target gays, but they violate a right all Americans hold dear: the right to privacy.

Yes, society does, and should, regulate some forms of sex. There can be no sex with children, for example, and no sex that is forced, even among married couples. In those cases, the government has a right to break through the privacy of the bedroom door—in order to protect a victim.

But it is truly an anachronism that America still has laws criminalizing sexual behavior between consenting adults. Even arguing for a moment that such laws somehow uphold America’s morals, they clearly violate the right to equality under the law if they ban sexual practices between homosexuals but not heterosexuals, as the Texas statute does.

Gays point out that anti-sodomy laws aren’t just about invasion of privacy. They also underpin antigay biases nationwide: If it’s all right for laws to ban gay sex, then it’s no stretch to restrict gay rights to jobs or to the custody of their children.

The Supreme Court made a bad ruling in 1986. It now has a golden chance to overturn it, and say that in America, equality applies to all.

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