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Year In Review: Sodomy, Santorum, and straight guys, the National Year in Review

By | 2004-01-01T09:00:00-05:00 January 1st, 2004|Uncategorized|

By Bob Roehr

The US Supreme Court added a fitting capstone to a month of gay pride celebrations when on June 26 it struck down sodomy laws that remained on the books in 13 states. The decision was Lawrence v Texas.
In one sense the ruling had more of a symbolic impact than a legal one. Sodomy laws were seldom used to directly prosecute sexual acts but they often were used to stigmatize gays and lesbians as criminals and by extension to deny them equal treatment under the law in matters ranging from employment to child custody.
Perhaps the most satisfying portion of the decision was its blunt and complete rejection of the 1987 Court decision that had allowed states to regulate sodomy. “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
No less satisfying was the broad language of the decision that embraced gay and lesbian Americans as equal citizens, fulfilling the promise of “Equal justice under law” that is carved into the gleaming white marble atop the Court building.
“The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives,” wrote Kennedy. “The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”
“This is an historic, transformative decision…it was a recognition of gay people’s humanity,” said Ruth Harlow, the attorney for Lambda Legal who guided the case through the legal system.
“This is constitutional rights in our real lives, in our homes, in our relationships,” she said. It “changes the landscape. It sends a signal to not only courts but also to legislatures that we deserve equality and full respect.”
The ‘sodomy’ provision of Article 125 of the Universal Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is perhaps the last standing sodomy law in the US, and an underpinning of the antigay military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Lt. Colonel Loren Stephen Loomis used the Lawrence decision to appeal his discharge from the military, in a case filed on July 7 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC. That decision is expected in early 2004, though the case may be decided on non-constitutional grounds.

POLITICS

It was a very quite year in Congress in terms of legislation directly affecting the GLBT community; rhetoric was another story.
The Republican leadership of both Houses made sure that neither hate crimes legislation nor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) came up for a vote. In past years a hate crimes measure had been attached to an appropriations bill in the Senate, though it didn’t survive a conference with the House.
But this year many of those bills have not yet been approved, despite the fact that the fiscal year started on October 1, and much of the government is operating on a continuing resolution. The silver lining is that social conservatives have been equally restricted in offering their antigay amendments. Perhaps all that will change when Congress returns in January.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) generated a firestorm of controversy in April with his homophobic remarks. Anticipating the possibility of the Supreme Court striking down sodomy laws, he said, “You [then] have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”
Long time gay activist Frank Kameny said, “It’s obvious that [Santorum] is a moral fascist, and is becoming the voice of the American Taliban. He is one of the ever more strident family fanatics. What he misses, among many other things, is that society exists for the individual; the individual does not exist for society.”
“John F. Kennedy drew a distinction between his public role as president of a diverse country and his own private religious convictions, Santorum explicitly argues the opposite,” wrote gay conservative Andrew Sullivan on his blog. “How can we have any hope of creating a democratic government in Iraq free from domination by repressive religion if we cannot free our own laws of official faith-based biases inflicted on our fellow citizens? ”
So it was more than a bit ironic when Rev. Steve Torrence stepped to the podium of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver the opening prayer on May 1, the US National Day of Prayer. He wore the crisply pressed uniform of the Key West Police Department, where he serves as a police officer and chaplain. He is a former pastor of the MCC Church in Key West.
He was the first clergyman from the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) to have that honor, and he is believed to be the first openly gay person to deliver that prayer. “It is important to have diversity in Congress and it is important to understand that sexual orientation does not determine one’s faith,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lentinen the south Florida Republican who invited Torrence to offer the prayer.
The promotion of General Robert T. Clark, the man in charge of Fort Campbell, Kentucky when PFC Barry Winchell was murdered in an antigay assault in 1999, continued to twist slowly in the wind for much of the year. It was approved only in November, some 14 months after the nomination was first made.
C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which led the fight to deny Clark his promotion, was “disappointed” though not surprised by the confirmation. He took solace in the fact that “For the first time in history, Senators have closely scrutinized an officer’s record on preventing antigay harassment.”
The antigay policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” continued to take public hits, particularly over the discharge of trained Arabic linguists even as their services were needed in Iraq. And for the first time, in December, two retired generals and an admiral came out as gay. They are the highest-ranking officers ever to acknowledge their sexual orientation.

SOCIETY

Another great symbol of changing attitudes towards gays and lesbians was the election of V. Gene Robinson as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in June, his confirmation by that church’ convention in August, and his installation in November.
Archconservatives within the Church, both domestically and especially internationally, were apoplectic about the development and continue to threaten schism. The controversy played out prominently across the media, and as time worn on, it seemed increasingly silly to most Americans.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy became the surprise hit of the summer tube and made waves far beyond its limited cable distribution, even morphing over into an edited version on NBC. Reichen and Chip showed that gays could be buff, cooperative hunks and win The Amazing Race. All of that was reinforced by news coverage, demonstrating that gays and lesbians are everywhere and increasingly are becoming part of the mainstream of American life.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.