So while other American queers marked the occasion by going to celebratory rallies and then heading home to exercise their brand-new constitutional rights, I was sitting alone in a hotel room watching the talking heads on CNN and Fox News debate What It All Means. "Homosexual conduct is no longer a crime" one CNN anchor intoned, looking deadly serious. Which means, of course, that a gay or lesbian couple is no longer a pair of "unindicted co-conspirators."
What the end of sodomy laws means, according to the professional ranters on the right and left, is either that a behind-the-curve court finally recognized that, hey, American queers are citizens with a right to privacy, too, or, as the Concerned Women for America put it in a press release, "The Supreme Court today issued a radical ruling [and] discovered a newfangled constitutional right to sodomy."
"Gay Sex Ban Struck Down" was splashed across the cover of the USA Today left outside the door to my hotel room the next morning, taunting my inability to indulge my newfangled constitutional rights. I didn't bother reading my complimentary copy of USA Today, opting instead to run out and buy a copy of the New York Times. Sitting in a Starbucks an hour later, reading excerpts from Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, something unexpected happened. I got choked up.
Okay, I cried.
I'm not a crier--not at all--and I'm not one of those queers who needs a constant stream of affirmation to feel good about my sexuality. In fact, my eyes stayed bone-dry the last time I had read a gay sodomy ruling handed down by the Supreme Court. That was the infamous Bowers v. Hardwick decision, which upheld Georgia's sodomy law and, to the delight of concerned women everywhere, cited such constitutional precedents as the King James Bible. That decision, handed down by a much more liberal Supreme Court, dripped with homophobia and contempt. It was offensive, it was vile, but in 1986, it just didn't get under my skin.
Who cared what the Supreme Court thought? If they caught me having sex, well, they could arrest me. Some of the folks I knew at the time were shocked by the ruling, but most just shrugged it off and said, well, fuck 'em. We had already walked away from our churches when we came out and risked our relationships with our parents, so who gave a shit what the Supremes thought? I was out, I had a boyfriend, I was having sex, and there wasn't a damn thing the state of Georgia could do about it really--or any of the other 24 states that had sodomy laws at the time. So why should it even matter if they upheld some bullshit sodomy law?
So I was surprised that reading, "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today," moved me so much. In 1986, a great wrong was done to American gays and lesbians but it was a time when great wrongs were routinely done to American gays and lesbians. While sodomy laws then and in the years since Bowers were rarely enforced, they were routinely used to deny gay men and lesbians adoption rights, custody of their own biological children, teaching certificates, employment protections, and domestic partner benefits.
What I couldn't see in the summer of 1986 was that one day I wouldn't be satisfied by merely having a boyfriend and being left alone. I would want, as I got older, full citizenship. And until last week, Bowers stood in the way.
It's been a heady month for gays and lesbians. While STD rates are rising, historical barriers to gay equality are falling. Gay marriage is being legalized in Canada, on America's doorstep. Gay marriage won't cause the sky to fall on heterosexual marriages up north, making it harder for our concerned women to argue that gay marriage will destroy straight marriages here. Conservatives are already threatening to introduce a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; they know the anti-gay-marriage Defense of Marriage Act is unlikely to pass constitutional muster. It will be interesting to see how George W. Bush--who won almost a third of the gay vote in 2000--will handle this. If his handling of the Rick " An Inclusive Man" Santorum is any guide, Bush will betray the foolish gays and lesbian who voted for him.
And it will be interesting to see how gays and lesbians, the promise of full citizenship dangled before us, will handle it. I'm hoping we'll demand more--of the Democrats, the Republicans, and of ourselves.