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Democratic Progress & the treatment of gay people


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In another thread, the topic of how the progression of democratic ideals results in the better treatment of gay people was brought to my mind. So, after finishing some work for a client, I did some reading on the topic of sodomy laws in the United States. For younger people the changes of the last few years might seem like no big deal, but it was eleven years ago that two men were arrested and spent the night in jail because a police officer barged into an apartment and caught them having sex (incidently, the person who filed a false report on them was the boyfriend of one of the two men and later spent 15 days in jail for filing a false report).

Think about that for a moment. That was in 1998 that these men were put in jail for having sex in the privacy of a home. Until the decision of Lawerence v Texas in June of 2002, there were 14 states in this nation that would fine you or put you in jail just for having sex with a person of the same sex. After your arrest and conviction, you would have a criminal record that would follow you around for the rest of your life, and in some states you might be required to register as a sex offender. The US Supreme Court changed that in 2002 with a 6-3 decision - meaning only the three ultra-conservatives were in disagreement with ruling sodomy laws as unconstitutional.

In 1989, I was eighteen years old. At that time, there were 25 states in this nation that had sodomy laws on the books. Just three years earlier, the US Supreme Court had ruled in Bowers v Hardwick that yes, state sodomy laws were constitutional and gay people could be thrown in jail. While most of these states were once members of the Confederacy, many of them were still north of the Mason-Dixon line. It wasn't a regional thing (while by 2002 3 of the 14 were above the Mason_Dixon line including Idaho, Colorado and Michigan).

Illinois was the only state to repeal its sodomy law before 1970. Everyone else has done it within my lifetime. Since the time I was born, our country has gone from viewing consensual sex between people of the same gender as a crime to something that is none of the state's business. In fact, instead of seeing it as a crime, we now have 6 states that allow us to get married.

That's progress.

After all, as recently as 1916 Virginia was expanding its sodomy laws to include oral sex. That same state was the source of a ruling 100 years earlier that made it no longer necessary for there to be a dicharge of semen for conviction on charges of sodomy. The act itself was enough. In 1777, Thomas Jefferson argued in Virginia to 'liberalize' their laws and change the penalty for sodomy from death to castration.

Yes, that's right, 234 years ago Thomas Jefferson tried to get Virginia to be nice and only castrate gay people instead of killing them. Who knows, he probably wanted even less penalty, but he thought he could at least get you and me castrated instead of killed. Kind of nice, eh? Unfortunately, the people of Virginia disagreed and kept the death penalty for another century or two.

By the way, at the time of the Lawrence decision the penalties ranged from: fines, 60 days in jail, all the way up to a LIFE SENTENCE in jail. Texas, the state that gave us the Lawrence decision actually had the LEAST punishment for violating the sodomy laws. Idaho had the worst. That was in 2002.

While Virginia was where the first execution for sodomy took place in these lands, back in the 1600's, before we were even a nation, gay people were executed all the way up to 1801. For those who like irony, it was California executing an eighteen year old for fellatio - with a mule. Yeah, yeah, so the guy was into bestiality, wasn't likely gay, and California wasn't even a state, but it's the last time a person was executed under sodomoy laws in the physical boundaries of what is now the United States.

Up until the middle of the 20th Century, penalties for sodomy ranged from jail time and fines to stripping of voting rights, etc. after conviction. Castration was used in some states, as well as the forced hospitilization at medical clinics where patients were often subjected to treatments we would call torture today. There are still people today who call for such penalties for gay people, and some of them are even elected officials.

Still, it was that great liberal Thomas Jefferson that best symbolizes my point in this. When democracy takes root, when people open their minds to new ideas, new thoughts, and new experiences and look at their country through those thoughts and experiences, their country will change with them. Twenty years ago a bare majority of Americans supported decriminilizing gay sex. Now, a bare majority supports letting same-sex couples get maried. It took two hundred years for the progression on the first part, decriminalization, and only twenty for the second.

When we look at emerging countries like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, etc., we need to be engaged with them and help them learn the lessons we have learned over the centuries, and maybe we will help make their lands safer for our brothers and sisters within their borders. Certainly these changes are much more likely to happen in the liberal atmosphere of a democracy than in the dictatorial chains they've had for the last several decades. Hopefully they'll also listen to our partners like the United Kingdom who decriminalized sodomy nationwide in the 1960's, or France who never had 'sodomy' laws per se, although they did have laws with similar impacts up until the 1980's.

Better yet, maybe they should listen to Poland where sodomy was never against the law (occupying forces in that country had laws against it, but free Polish governments have not).

Certainly, following in the paths of any of those countries would be better than following in the footsteps of Muslim countries like Iran where they execute us, or Christian nations like Uganda where they have been trying to pass laws to kill us or put us in jail for the last three years.

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