Last edited: February 05, 2005

Mosman Meets with Gay Rights Supporters

The Oregonian, April 26, 2003
1320 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97201
Fax: 503-294-4193

By Mark Larabee

Oregon’s U.S. attorney, Michael Mosman, the leading candidate for an open federal judgeship in Portland, met Friday with representatives of two gay rights groups that are seeking clarification on his written opinions about privacy for homosexuals.

The meeting was the result of a continuing controversy in which Mosman’s views, expressed in 1986 while clerking for Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, have gay rights advocates wondering whether he will be able to make unbiased rulings regarding liberties for sexual minorities if appointed to the federal bench.

Neither side would talk about what was said during the discussion.

Mosman’s memos to Powell advocated upholding Georgia’s antisodomy law on grounds that its demise would open to door to legalizing other sex crimes, such as prostitution. He said the right to privacy should not be a shield to homosexuals charged with breaking antisodomy laws. Powell cast the deciding vote to uphold the Georgia law.

The Supreme Court is now deliberating whether it should overturn a Texas antisodomy law and, in essence, reverse the court’s 1986 stance in Bowers v. Hardwick, the case Mosman wrote about as Lewis’ law clerk.

Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s most influential gay rights lobby, and the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights group in the country, expressed concerns last month that Mosman might still subscribe to those 17-year-old standards regardless of the country’s growing acceptance of homosexual relationships.

Focus on the issue sharpened dramatically this week when Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., told The Associated Press that throwing out antisodomy laws on the basis of privacy rights could threaten regulation of sexual behavior that is “antithetical to strong healthy families.”

“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery,” Santorum said.

The similarities between Mosman’s written views as a young lawyer and Santorum’s comments have put Oregon’s two U.S. senators in a tough spot politically.

Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Gordon Smith agree that Mosman is their top choice to fill the Portland vacancy on the federal bench. Yet both have denounced Santorum’s statements, Wyden more forcefully than Smith, and now they must reconcile Mosman’s early writings with their own support of gay rights and a desire to see Bowers v. Hardwick overturned.

Mosman met for more than an hour Friday morning at Wyden’s Portland office with Roey Thorpe of Basic Rights Oregon, Terry Bean from the Human Rights Campaign and senior Smith and Wyden staffers.

Afterward, Mosman called the meeting productive and said he was happy to answer questions posed by the advocates.

Bean said it was a good discussion, but that he wanted time to think about what was said before making any comment.

“The 1986 law, Bowers versus Hardwick, was very, very hurtful to a whole nation of gays and lesbians,” he said. “We’re trying to determine if (Mosman) is a different person than he was in 1986.”

Thorpe also reserved her impressions of Mosman, saying she needed to deliberate with colleagues about what was said.

“I understand that the stakes are very high here,” she said. “A dialogue occurred here and that is progress. We want to make sure we’ve considered it thoroughly.”

Josh Kardon, Wyden’s chief of staff, said afterward that he thinks Mosman believes in equal rights for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.

“Senator Wyden couldn’t disagree more strongly with the beliefs of Senator Santorum,” Kardon said. “We would like to think that there’s a difference between what Senator Santorum said as an elected official and what Mr. Mosman wrote as a law clerk in 1986.”

He said Mosman and Wyden will meet to discuss the issue next week and noted that in a Senate so evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, virtually anyone could make an issue out of anything to block a nomination.

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