Reason Number 2,767 Why Gay Rights Matter to Everyone
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The Federal court decision that inspired this post happened a couple of months ago, when I first wrote it. But the issues it addresses are very much current and pertinent ... not to mention a rare bit of good sex news in this crappy decade. So I'm reprinting it anyway. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
As you've probably heard, the Texas law banning the sale of sex toys has been overturned.
This is excellent news, for all the obvious reasons. Most obviously, Texans can now buy and sell sex toys. People can now open sex toy stores in Texas, run fuckerware parties in Texas, sell sex toys to Texans through the mail without fear of entering murky legal waters. Woo-hoo! Go, Texans! (Good articles about it in the Austin-American Statesman, and in Dispatches from the Culture Wars.)
But I want to talk about one of the less obvious reasons why this is astoundingly, excitingly, kick-ass good news.
(Please note: I'm not a legal expert, and I'm definitely not an expert on constitutional law. These are simply the opinions of a smart lay person who's been paying attention to this issue for a long time, informed by the opinions of people who are legal experts.)
The primary reason for the Texas sex toy ruling -- the main precedent cited -- was the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence and Garner v. Texas, which overturned sodomy laws and legalized gay sex across the country. Now, Lawrence was important for sexual civil rights for a whole lot of reasons. Most obviously, it meant that nobody in the United States could be considered a criminal simply for having gay sex. And that has huge implications for things like custody rights, housing rights, employment rights, etc. Before Lawrence, gay people could be -- and were -- denied all sorts of basic rights ... because, technically, they were criminals. Lawrence upended all that, and it was hugely important for that reason alone.
But this latest case -- the Texas sex toy case, Reliable Consultants and PHE v. Texas -- makes it clear that Lawrence has even broader implications ... for everyone. Gay, straight, everyone.
The Texas sex toy case makes it clear that the Lawrence v. Texas ruling established a constitutional right to sexual privacy in the United States.
And that, people, is HUGE.
We didn't used to have that. You might have had it in the particular state you lived in -- we've had it in California since 1975, when the consenting adults law got passed -- but United States citizens did not have any constitutionally guaranteed right to sexual privacy."
And we have it now. Yes, the Federal courts have now said that you have a constitutional right to use a vibrator or a dildo. But so much more than that: the Federal courts have now said ... well, let me quote briefly from the decision.
Just as in Lawrence, the State here wants to use its laws to enforce a public moral code by restricting private intimate conduct. The case is not about public sex. It is not about controlling commerce in sex. It is about controlling what people do in the privacy of their own homes because the State is morally opposed to a certain type of consensual private intimate conduct. This is an insufficient justification for the statute after Lawrence. (Emphasis mine.)
The Lawrence case didn't just say that gay sex couldn't be criminalized. It said that people -- all people -- have the right to engage in any consensual intimate conduct in their home, free from government intrusion. It said that people's sex lives are not their neighbors' business, not society's business, and most emphatically not the government's business. It said that the fact that the State doesn't happen to like a particular kind of sex doesn't mean they have a right to ban it, or indeed to have any say in it at all.
This case says, "Yup. That's what Lawrence meant, all right."
And that has enormous implications. (Assuming it gets upheld, of course; the decision could be appealed to the Supreme Court, and I haven't read anything yet saying whether or not it will be.)
It has implications for sadomasochists. Fetishists. Swingers. Any other sexual minority you can think of. If you're any of those things ... you should now now have a legal right to it, anywhere in the country. And that's pretty darned important for all those custody rights and housing rights and employment rights and whatnot that we were talking about. It may wind up having implications for porn laws; if we our right to sexual privacy means we can have vibrators, it should mean we have a right to dirty movies as well. (It should have implications for the legalization of sex work, too; but alas, the rulings in both Lawrence and this case made a point of saying that the rulings don't apply to prostitution. Mistakenly, in my opinion.)
So here's the lesson for today. Apart from just, "Hooray for sex toys!" and "Hooray for the right to sexual privacy!"
The lesson for today: Gay rights are human rights.
Gay rights are everyone's rights.
And straight people have a personal vested interest in fighting for gay rights.
This is a point that sex advice writer Dan Savage has made on several occasions. He's pointed out that the right-wing homophobes who want to stop things like same-sex marriage are the exact same right-wing sex-phobes who want to stop things like birth control and sex education and abortion. Gay sexual rights are often on the cutting edge of sexual liberation ... and they're often the first on the chopping block when right-wingers try to turn back the clock.
So I want all the straight people reading this to say a big, heartfelt "Thank You" to the people in the gay rights movement who fought so hard for so many years to get the Lawrence verdict. They are the people who, last week, gave you the right to own a dildo or a vibrator.
And I want you to promise to treat the fight for gay rights as if it were the fight for your own.
Because it is.