Equality at issue in high court anti-sodomy case
December 6, 2002
PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA, 19101
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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