Lawrence Behind Bars
Conservatives vs. privacy.


Deroy Murdock

Last month’s Supreme Court Lawrence ruling blew some gaskets among social conservatives. Even more than in the University of Michigan racial preference case, the reaction to the Lawrence et al v. Texas ruling (which vacated the Lone Star state’s sodomy law) has been especially heated.

The Supreme Court “magically discovered a right to privacy that includes sexual perversion,” Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for America complained to USA Today.

“This is a lamentable outcome,” Rev. Rob Schenk, president of the National Clergy Council, told the New York Daily News. “The Court has said today that morality, matters of right and wrong, do not matter in the law.”

The editors of Crisis magazine called Lawrence “the most damaging decision handed down since Roe v. Wade.”

These particular activists, at least in these remarks, make no mention of the fact that, under the Texas statute, John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner were thrown in jail for private, consensual sex inside the bedroom of Lawrence’s private apartment.

Most of the social-conservative commentary attacking the Lawrence decision scarcely acknowledges this ugly fact or, even worse, blithely skips right past it.

Perhaps socio-cons are uncomfortable facing the consequences of their beliefs.

Sodomy laws differ from the acts of religious people or traditionalists who grind their teeth as gay-pride parades march by. If these Americans wish to erode their molars in silence, quietly pray for the souls of gay people or loudly wave picket signs denouncing homosexuality, they are perfectly free to do so. And if it makes them feel better, go for it.

However, the now-powerless anti-sodomy laws that socio-cons support allowed adult taxpayers to be arrested, jailed, tried, and punished.

After spending a night in custody, Lawrence and Garner were released. After appearing before a judge, they each were forced to pay a $200 fine and $141.25 in court costs. At least until the Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling, they also were required to register as sex offenders in four states. In addition, their humiliation — having been dragged outside in their underwear and tossed into a Harris County Sheriff’s squad car — surely was incalculable.

If they were in public, if children were involved, or if Lawrence had a revolver at Garner’s neck, even worse punishments would have been appropriate. Of course, no such circumstances pertained in this case.

Critics of theLawrence decision say the people of Texas should have been allowed to vote to overturn this law, or at least do so through their legislature. But what if the majority of Texans still disapproved of what happens in Lawrence’s bedroom and others like it? Do social conservatives sincerely applaud a law that would permit the police to come in, say, once a week and re-arrest Lawrence and Garner each time the cops caught them engaged in sodomy while, by the way, leaving unmolested the heterosexual residents of the very same building who happen to enjoy non-procreative, genital-anal sex?

The whole concept of minority rights demands that majorities not use political power to quash the liberties of minorities, so long as members of such minorities do not harm the lives, liberties, or property of others. It is impossible to see precisely who Lawrence and Garner threatened while they were indoors, in Lawrence’s apartment. Can any defender of the Texas anti-sodomy statute identify anyone Lawrence and Garner jeopardized?

If social conservatives really believe American adults should be placed in jail for private, voluntary sexual behavior, they at least should be honest enough to admit openly that they desire a system in which grown-up homosexual taxpayers can be arrested and thrown behind bars for such activity.

— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.