Last edited: February 14, 2005


Sodomy Ruling Is A Wake-Up Call For Georgians

By Devon Clayton

Southern Voice

March 21,1996, page 8

You are a threat to the "moral welfare" of the state. Your sexual expression is against the law - punishable by up to 20 years in prison. And don't even think about getting legally married.

That was the message from our morally upstanding elected officials last week, in a stunning one-two punch to gays and lesbians in Georgia. First, the state Supreme Court upheld Georgia's sodomy law, ruling that this musty statute which criminalizes "any sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another" somehow is compatible with the right to privacy. Then, three days later, a bill barring same-sex marriage passed the General Assembly (we are 1 of only 4 other states that has done this so far).

And as though that wasn't enough, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals last week erased one of the few victories gays and lesbians have had lately. The court chose to set aside a ruling in favor of lesbian lawyer Robin Shahar, who was denied a job by Attorny General Michael Bowers when he learned she was getting married to a woman. Rather than let stand a ruling that Bowers (who will likely run for governor in 1998) violated Shahar's right, the court will rehear the case.

All in all, a bad week for queers - and for any straight person who likes sex that is more exotic than in the missionary position for purposes of procreation. While the marriage bill and the Court of Appeals decision are setbacks, the sodomy ruling is a loud and clear wake-up call to all gays, lesbians and progressives in the state.

The timing of the sodomy ruling could not have bee more symbolic. It was exactly 10 years ago that another Georgia sodomy case handed the gay and lesbian community its biggest setback to that point, when the US Supreme Court, in Bowers v. Hardwick, held that state sodomy laws do not violate the US Constitution. At the time, Chief Jusice Warren Burger argued to legitimize sodomy as a constitutionally protected right "would be to cast aside millenia of moral teaching."

"Moral" concern again reared its hydra head in last week's Christensen v. State ruling. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugh P. Thompson proclaimed, "We hold that the proscription against sodomy is legitimate and valid exercise of state police power in futherance of the moral welfare of the public."

So much for seperation of church and state.

The Hardwick ruling and the sodomy laws it upheld continue to provide legal backbone for countless efforts to block gay rights. Sodomy laws give teeth to the homophobia that arises from church doctrine and ancient prejudice, giving judges a reason to strip custody from gay parents, employers to deny jobs and fire at will, schools to block teachers from discussing homosexuality in a positive or even a neutral light - and endless range of punishments both large and small that we, as "criminals," have little recourse to appeal.

The decision in Hardwick was close and fiercely debated; the vote was 5-4, and Justice Lewis Powell, who cast the swing vote, later said that it was the one vote he regretted and wished he could change. Imagine, for a moment, what your life would be like if Powell had voted the other way and sodomy statutes had been struck down across the land. If the Supreme Court had taken the radical position that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" extended to lesbian and gay Americans, how might your life be different today? If you are a lesbian or gay parent, you could seek custody of your children without fear of a "morality" ruling by a judge. With or without children, you could work and live where you want. You would be a full-fledged citizen, with rights.

But, thanks to the US, and Georgia Supreme Courts, you're not. You may have bars to dance in, restaurants to eat in, gyms to pump yourself up in, and even a big pride parade every June, but no rights. You can not legally have sex or even talk about sex (that would be solicitation). So much for freedom of speech.

In the wake of this decision, activists from the Georgia Equality Project are calling on the gay community - all organizations and every individual - to attend an emergency town meeting at 3 pm on Saturday, April 13, at the Wyndham Hotel on 10th Street in Midtown to determine a course of action for the community to take. I urge all of you to attend. (For more info, call 770-662-4030.)

In the meantime, write down these names and remember them when election time comes around. The five Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold the sodomy law are Hugh P. Thompson, Robert Benham, Georga H. Carley, Norman S. FLetcher and P. Harrie Hines. The two who voted to strike the law are Leah J. Sears and Carol W. Hunstein.

And don't forget Attorney General Michael Bowers, who has twice scored a major victory against us with the Georgia sodomy law and is the defendant in the Shahar case. Whenever he chooses to run, whether for governor or Attorney General or any other office, we must make defeating him a top priority.

See you on April 13.

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