High Court Sodomy Ruling Could Be the Start of
Stranger, June 26—July 1, 2003
1122 East Pike St., Suite 1225, Seattle, WA 98122
By Dan Savage, firstname.lastname@example.org
Just my luck. The day the Supreme Court strikes down
Texas’ anti-gay sodomy laws—and by extension anti-gay and anti-straight
sodomy laws in 13 other states—I’m in Boston, thousands of miles away from
my boyfriend, the only person I’m interested in sodomizing these days.
So while other American queers marked the occasion by
going to celebratory rallies and then heading home to exercise their brand-new
constitutional rights, I was sitting alone in a hotel room watching the
talking heads on CNN and Fox News debate What It All Means. “Homosexual
conduct is no longer a crime...,” one CNN anchor intoned, looking deadly
serious. Which means, of course, that a gay or lesbian couple is no longer a
pair of “unindicted co-conspirators.”
What the end of sodomy laws means, according to the
professional ranters on the right and left, is either that a behind-the-curve
court finally recognized that, hey, American queers are citizens with a right
to privacy too, or, as the Concerned Women for America put it in a press
release, “The Supreme Court today issued a radical ruling [and] discovered a
newfangled constitutional right to sodomy.”
“Gay Sex Ban Struck Down” was splashed across the
cover of the USA Today left outside the door to my hotel room the next
morning, taunting my inability to indulge my newfangled constitutional rights.
I didn’t bother reading my complimentary copy of USA Today, opting instead
to run out and buy a copy of the New York Times. Sitting in a Starbucks an
hour later, reading excerpts from Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion,
something unexpected happened. I got choked up.
Okay, I cried.
I’m not a crier—not at all—and I’m not one of
those queers who needs constant stream of affirmation to feel good about my
sexuality. In fact, my eyes stayed bone-dry the last time I had read a gay
sodomy ruling handed down by the Supreme Court. That was the infamous Bowers
v. Hardwick decision, which upheld Georgia’s sodomy law and, to the
delight of concerned women everywhere, cited such constitutional precedents as
the King James Bible. That decision, handed down by a much more liberal
Supreme Court, dripped with homophobia and contempt. It was offensive, it was
vile, but in 1986, it just didn’t get under my skin.
Who cared what the Supreme Court thought? If they caught
me having sex, well, they could arrest me. Some of the folks I knew at the
time were shocked by the ruling, but most just shrugged it off and said, well,
fuck ‘em. We had already walked away from our churches when we came out and
risked our relationships with our parents, so who gave a shit what the
Supremes thought? I was out, I had a boyfriend, I was having sex, and there
wasn’t a damn thing the state of Georgia could do about it really—or any
of the other 24 states that had sodomy laws at the time. So why should it even
matter if they upheld some bullshit sodomy law?
So I was surprised that reading, “Bowers was not
correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today,” moved me so much.
In 1986, a great wrong was done to American gays and lesbians but it was a
time when great wrongs were routinely done to American gays and lesbians.
While sodomy laws then and in the years since Bowers were rarely enforced,
they were routinely used to deny gay men and lesbians adoption rights, custody
of their own biological children, teaching certificates, employment
protections, and domestic partner benefits.
What I couldn’t see in the summer of 1986 was that one
day I wouldn’t be satisfied by merely having a boyfriend and being left
alone. I would want, as I got older, full citizenship. And until last week,
Bowers stood in the way.
It’s been a heady month for gays and lesbians. While
STD rates are rising, historical barriers to gay equality are falling. Gay
marriage is being legalized in Canada, on America’s doorstep. Gay marriage
won’t cause the sky to fall on heterosexual marriages up north, making it
harder for our concerned women to argue that gay marriage will destroy
straight marriages here. Conservatives are already threatening to introduce a
constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; they know the anti-gay-marriage
Defense of Marriage Act is unlikely to pass constitutional muster. It will be
interesting to see how George W. Bush—who won almost a third of the gay vote
in 2000—will handle this. If his handling of the Rick “An Inclusive Man”
Santorum is any guide, Bush will
betray the foolish gays and lesbian who voted for him.
And it will be interesting to see how gays and lesbians,
the promise of full citizenship dangled before us, will handle it. I’m
hoping we’ll demand more—of the Democrats, the Republicans, and of
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