Civil Liberties

Supreme Sodomy

Look how far this country has come


First of all, this decision isn't anywhere nearly as dirty as the Starr Report. If the Supreme Court is going to legalize civilian sodomy across the nation, and maybe pave the way for military sodomy as well, the least it could do is enumerate in painstaking detail all the acts that are now permitted. The closest anyone comes is dissenting justice Antonin Scalia, who growls something about a "homosexual agenda." Oh boy, you think, a homosexual agenda. What do you suppose is on it? Better calm down, friend: The coy old boy doesn't say.

Second of all, the decision fell just two days short of the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the 1969 melee generally credited with launching the modern gay rights movement. If you want to know how far that movement has come, compare the ways The New York Times reported each event. In 1969, when the patrons of a gay bar fought back against stormtroopers who thought they could lock people up just for preferring sex with men to sex with ladies, the Times' headline was "4 Policemen Hurt in 'Village' Raid." In 2003, when the country's highest court struck down the last remaining, rarely enforced, completely atavistic laws prohibiting private sex between consenting adults, the Times' headline was "I'm Actually Having Lunch in Brooklyn Right Now." Do you see what I'm driving at? Homosexuality is now more respectable than The New York Times.

Before me are two articles on the state of queer America in 2003. The first is a syndicated column by the Republican pundit Jonah Goldberg; it argues that gays have won the culture war, like it or not, and that social conservatives should acknowledge the fact. The essay mentions that Britain and Canada are poised to permit same-sex marriages and that our gay-fearing attorney general John Ashcroft "can't stop a gay pride event in his own office building," but otherwise makes its case with nothing but references to pop culture and the media. This is cheating, arguably, because everyone knows this is one issue where the news and entertainment industries are several yards to the left of the rest of the country. But within those limits, Goldberg has a completely valid point. In 1969, there were no gays in sitcoms, unless you count Floyd the Barber. Today there are scads of them. Granted, most are cuddly P.C. stereotypes rather than well-rounded characters, but that's just as true of their heterosexual counterparts.

The second article? It's a story by Fiona Morgan in the Durham Independent, and it's a bit more sobering. It's about Angel Collie, a lesbian teen from Franklin County, North Carolina, and the ways she was tormented by her classmates. Things eventually got so bad that she dropped out of school and high-tailed it for—San Francisco? The Village? Provincetown? Nope. She transferred to an all-gay high school in Dallas. An all-gay high school in Dallas.

Goldberg's right: The gay movement is winning. Partly because of court decisions like yesterday's, and partly because of public protests like those in 1969. But mostly because its members have built a social infrastructure that reaches into more of the country than ever before. It's now far easier for Americans to live openly as gays and lesbians; and, as a result, far harder for any fair-minded person who comes into contact with them not to realize that they're as decent on average as anyone else. Visibility breeds respect.

In 1969, Angel Collie would have been tormented in almost every high school in the nation. In 2003, the territories open to her are wider, more dispersed, and more diverse. That isn't a complete victory. But it's a sign of just how far the country has come.