Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Sodomy Laws

by Adam Ritscher / 2003

This past month the Supreme Court struck down the state of Texas’s anti-gay “Homosexual Conduct Law.” This law, like many of the “anti-sodomy” laws still on the books in number of states, makes gay sex an illegal act. The Supreme Court’s decision came on the heels of a big campaign on the part of gay rights activist to overturn such laws, along with an anti-gay campaign by right wing elements.

With the continued plague of anti-gay violence, and the increasingly hostile and anti-gay political climate being perpetuated by the powers that be in this country, this ruling was an important gain and shows the power that mass action has.

While the press has highlighted the courtroom battles and press conference statements related to this battle, it has neglected to report the demonstrations and other actions that have been taking place in dozens of cities around the country, which probably more than anything else resulted in the favorable Supreme Court ruling. Except for the protests around the death of Matthew Shepard, never before has the GLBT movement rallied in so many cities in so short a period of time around an issue. Protests took place in cities as far afield as Salt Lake City and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

A critical leading role in this “in the streets” mobilization was played by the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network and the National Supreme Court Civil Rights Rally, which CABN activists initiated, which has cautioned the GLBT movement to focus on mass action as opposed to “electoral diversions.” In fact the activists who organized the dozens of demonstrations calling for the Texas anti-sodomy law to be overturned have responded to the ruling by organizing further rallies. Robin Thayer, a CABN activist and Co-coordinator of the National Supreme Court Civil Rights Rally said after the ruling, “We will take this victory and remain active in the streets to make sure the Court’s ruling doesn’t remain just a piece of paper.”

This event, which the San Francisco Chronicle described as “one of the most important cases in the history of civil rights for lesbian and gay Americans,” is significant in that the decision is a boost to others besides the GLBT community. “By striking down the Texas law on privacy grounds, the court has also provided an important buttress to pro-choice rights, which are increasingly under threat by the fundamentalist right,” said Tyler.

What follows below is a statement issued by the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network on what to do in the wake of this ruling.

Statement by the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network:

While we celebrate our huge victory in the courts, we must remember that the experience of other civil rights struggles shows that formal legal equal does not necessarily mean REAL equality. Following the important court work of Lambda Legal and others, we must organize our community to ensure EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION of this great decision.

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision, which supposedly outlawed segregation, was at first a DEAD LETTER as racists at all levels of government stymied its implementation — until the Civil Rights Movement grew to sufficeint strength in the 1960s to begin FORCING change through mobilizing large numbers of African Americans and allies in the streets. That’s why the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, DC Radical Faeries, and veteran Lesbian activist Robin Tyler of Los Angeles launched the nationwide campaign to have celebrations/protests on the night of the Court’s decision – 38 cities from Fairbanks, Alaska to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Now that we’ve won, there is a huge danger that COMPLACENCY or ELECTORAL DIVERSIONS will sap our victory, preventing us from exploiting the full potential of this important decision. Those who oppose us often complain that if they “give us an inch, we’ll take a mile.” Well, we’ve gotten that inch, now let’s take that mile! We have a tremendous opportunity to open up a sea-change in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Trans-gendered politics, but only if we exploit every opportunity to expand on the Court’s decision.

Think there’s nothing left to do? Here’s just a few suggestions for future action:

* We need equal marriage rights, like they just won in Canada, so that our relationships are treated with dignity, and we enjoy the host of material benefits which come with marriage: access to our partner’s health coverage, equality in adoption and foster parenting, inheritance rights, immigration rights, and Social Security and pension survivors’ benefits.

* We need equal employment, housing and access to public accommodations protections, such as would be guaranteed by Illinois’s House Bill 101. A Federal law outlawing discrimination in these areas is needed.

* We need an end to public subsidies and contracts — our tax dollars — going to institutions that refuse to hire us: the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, to name a few.

Formal legal equality and kind words are pale substitutes for genuine equality. We have every right to celebrate a huge victory today, but let’s not be satisfied. Let’s continue organizing for FULL equality!