Personal Voices: Sodomy and the Supremes
The worn-out wigs and rainbow banners have all been put away. The Dykes on Bikes have taken their Harleys home. The remnants of last week's Gay Pride Parades in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and dozens of other cities and small towns across America have been swept away with the last celebratory strains of disco party music.
Yes, another Gay Pride season comes to a close. But for many queers, myself included, the party has just begun.
Thanks to the recent Supreme Court decision overturning pernicious sodomy laws -- which have dampened the party for decades -- our days of being plagued by the Sex Police are finally over.
On June 26, The Supremes -- as we like to call the high justices in robes -- issued a historic ruling that will certainly have dramatic political and social consequences for years to come. By a sweeping 6-3 majority, private, consensual, adult sexual conduct was legalized and laws criminalizing gay sex were ruled unconstitutional. Just like that.
As someone who has personally broken the sodomy law or its intent in at least 37 states - with fond memories of Montana and Virginia in particular, not to mention that beautiful cowboy in Oklahoma - all I can say is, "It's about time!"
With one ruling the High Court stuck down its own infamous Bowers vs. Hardwick decision of 1986, which upheld Georgia's heinous sodomy law. It also ruled that the remaining sodomy laws in 13 states were unconstitutional. Four of those states had laws that only applied to same sex -- including Okalahoma, home of my beloved cowboy, plus George Dubya's Texas. The laws everywhere were typically used only against gay and lesbian people and often resulted in trumped up charges, lost jobs, ruined lives and general disgrace.
For our straight friends who find this hard to fathom, consider this: If you didn't do it with10 toes up and 10 toes down, with the lights off, after the children had gone to sleep, with a man and women only, and never on a Sunday, you could just about go to jail --including for up to 10 years in Montana.
For queers, the laws not only criminalized our sexuality but struck at the core of our basic humanity and dignity. We were unconvicted criminals even before breaking the law just because of who we are, whom we love, and how we love them.
No more. Justice Kennedy stated the majority opinion so eloquently:
"The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
For queers, those words - "existence" and " destiny" - are liberating and affirming. For the first time in the history of America our existence has legally been affirmed as sexual people, and our destiny has been protected by the Constitution.
Political pundits from the Right are blathering about how this will result in a flood of amorality including gay marriage, gays in the military, a plague of locusts and most definitely a hot 2004 presidential campaign issue.
Actually, they are probably right about gay marriage and other areas of discrimination against gays. By upholding our "due process" to equality and justice under the Constitution, the doors have been opened wider for anti-discrimination legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), now languishing in a GOP-controlled Congress. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the military isn't looking so solid either. And gay marriage suddenly seems more accessible, especially after the recent Canada decision that extends full marriage rights to its gay and lesbian citizens.
Already, gay and lesbian organizations are scrutinizing the ruling for political and legal leverage.
But for me personally, the ruling offered a poignant reminder of a time in my life long ago and how so much has changed since then. Actually, I have the Supreme Court to thank for where I am today.
Jump back to the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on a cool autumnal October day in 1987. It was the first anniversary of the Bowers vs. Hardwick sodomy law decision, the same decision struck down last week. At the time I was working for the IBM Corporation as a junior public relations executive. Not only was I in a stiff suit and tie every day at work, but I was also in the closet. My boss didn't know I was gay, and neither did my family.
But on that day at the High Court, as thousands protested the law that made our sex a criminal act, I decided to come out. I had volunteered to do PR work for the rally as a public service, even though I wasn't "out." In the middle of the media frenzy surrounding the action I did a stand-up interview for one of the network TV correspondents. She had already scored interviews with the police, the Court's spokesperson, and various others, but she needed more footage and I was available.
So I looked into the camera and said, "Hi mom and dad, it's Robert, I'm gay, I'm proud, these Sodomy laws must end, and I love you." Turns out my family, not to mention my IBM boss, were watching the news later that day. There I was on TV, outing myself!
I quit my soul-crushing yuppie job soon after, joined the gay movement, developed a loving, honest relationship with my folks that persists to this day, and now I'm a lifer in the social justice movement. All because of the Supremes.
Robert Bray is founding director of the SPIN Project in San Francisco and former communications director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.