The Truth About Sodomy Laws


Dahlia Lithwick reviews Dale Carpenter's Flagrant Conduct, which takes a fresh look at Lawrence v. Texas. Although arrested for having sex, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner actually weren't being physical; Garner's jealous boyfriend called the police because he thought Garner was flirting with Lawrence:

That’s the punch line: the case that affirmed the right of gay couples to have consensual sex in private spaces seems to have involved two men who were neither a couple nor having sex. In order to appeal to the conservative Justices on the high court, the story of a booze-soaked quarrel was repackaged as a love story. Nobody had to know that the gay-rights case of the century was actually about three or four men getting drunk in front of a television in a Harris County apartment decorated with bad James Dean erotica.

Barry Deutsch distills the larger point:

For me, the fact that Lawrence and Garner hadn’t actually been having sex when they were arrested perfectly illustrates the real meaning of anti-sodomy laws. The cops didn’t really witness any sex going on, but they did recognize that the men were gay, and that was reason enough for the cops to arrest the men. This is sodomy laws at their most pure: It’s not about stopping sex, it’s about criminalizing existing while homosexual.

(Map of states which still have sodomy laws on the books from Tim Murphy. Following Lawrence the laws became unenforceable, but Murphy sees them as an attempt to "send a message that homosexuality is officially condemned by the government.")