Last edited: February 14, 2005


Editorial: Get Government Out Of Bedrooms

St. Petersburg Times, November 29, 1998
P. O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731
Fax 727-893-8675

The court ruled that the state's anti-sodomy law violates the state Constitution's guarantee of privacy. The case involved a man originally accused of raping and commiting forceable sodomy on his 17-year-old niece, but who was found guilty only of consensual sodomy. In light of that disturbing context, the court acted with particular courage to use the case as a vehicle for voiding the law, because it meant overturning the man's conviction.

This clear-headed decision stands in stark contrast to the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bowers vs. Hardwick, in which it upheld the same law.

That case arose after Michael Hardwick, a gay Atlanta bartender, was arrested in 1982 in his own bedroom. After the charges were dropped, he sued, challenging the constitutionality of the law. The law was defended with religious zeal by Georgia's then-Attorney General Michael Bowers, who quoted biblical passages in his submissions to the court. He called homosexual acts "an anathema to the basic units of our society -- marriage and the family." During his recent failed run for governor of Georgia, Bowers was forced to admit having a decade-long extramarital affair with an employee. Adultery also is a crime under Georgia law.

In Hardwick, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of allowing government regulation of private, non-commercial, adult sexual conduct. Justice Lewis Powell Jr. was the swing vote in the case and after his retirement told an audience he "probably made a mistake on that one."

No doubt Hardwick will one day be consigned to the legal garbage heap, where it will join such Supreme Court missteps as the Dred Scott decision, which affirmed that slaves were property, and Plessy vs. Ferguson, which ratified government's "separate but equal" approach to race relations. Until then, Hardwick is being slowly marginalized as longstanding anti-sodomy laws are voided by enlightened courts and legislatures. Florida is one of 18 states that still have such laws on the books. Our law criminalizes homosexual and heterosexual sodomy under a statute banning "unnatural and lascivious acts."

It's about time for Florida and the other holdouts to realize that allowing government into our bedroom is a bigger "anathema to society" than anything that happens in it between consenting adults.

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