On Pranks, Supremes Debating Sodomy, the Invisible Middle and “Gay Sex”

What more could be written or said about the landmark Supreme Court decision on Lawrence v. Texas, which deemed state laws criminalizing sodomy between homosexual as well as heterosexual adults unconstitutional? Not a lot — most major news sources were thorough and timely in outlining the opinions of the court, the lawyers involved, advocates for both sides of the issue and pundits who offered predictions for how the decision would shape the gay rights movement and society as a whole.

Still, there are a few details that I’d have liked to have read more about, heard more about or at least been reported differently, plus a few conclusions I came to personally.

  • Firstly, my pranks suck. Not that I consider myself a skilled prankster by any means, but probably the best trick I’ve ever pulled resulted in a forced-but-good-natured laugh and a few fake gut-punches from the object of my efforts. I can’t say any of my practical jokes have had the lasting impact of the one pulled by a certain Texan, who according to major news sources and the Harris County Police Department falsely reported that a man with a gun was “going crazy” in his gay neighbor’s apartment. Police followed up, entered the apartment, found two men engaging in consensual sex and arrested them for violating the state’s anti-sodomy law. Sure, it seemed successful then, yet somehow five years later the Supreme Court overthrows sodomy laws, an American flag replaces the traditional rainbow flag in San Francisco’s Castro district for a day and probably the liveliest Pride celebrations in recent memory light up many of the U.S.’s major cities. I’m not sure if I’m happier that the laws have been overturned and that now gays can’t be discriminated against using sodomy laws, or just that this Texas neighbor is probably feeling really stupid just about now.Really, if you get beyond the obvious landmark nature of the ruling, the sequence of events that set this particular case in motion really can make you think about the nature of fate and circumstance. What if the neighbor thought better and never made the call? What if a less zealous cop answered the call and didn’t arrest the two men in question? What if the Texas appeals court had decided that yes, this law was pretty ridiculous, let’s just take it off the records and apologize to these nice gentlemen?

    It would be nice if we could all take a lesson from this and somehow be able to play very controlled pranks against our neighbors and poof! Five years later, outdated laws would be overturned, certain presidents would be impeached, water would turn into wine, an additional paycheck would find our pockets or any other wonderful benefit you can imagine. Unfortunately for me, my inability to pull off successful (or conveniently awry) practical jokes takes me out of the running in this novel, new sort of progressive action, but I encourage all the career pranksters out there to give it a go.

  • This case has to have been the Supreme Court beat journalist’s wet dream. In what other setting can you tie the word “sodomy” to “Scalia.” Sodomy. Scalia. Sodomy. Scalia. Try it — it’s fun.Seriously, though, imagine, as a journalist, being assigned Supreme Court cases as your beat. At first, you approach it pretty enthusiastically, but after a while the decisions have to start blending into each other, with certain companies being (or not being) monopolies or that one guy denying the constitutional rights of some other guy who blah blah blah… Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, these nine distinguished judges are talking about — nay, debating — whether or not it’s constitutional to restrict consenting adults from having oral and/or anal sex in the privacy of their own homes. I mean, damn. Sodomy, Scalia, sodomy, Scalia… if at any time in my life I’d like to be a fly on a wall somewhere, it’d be within the court’s chambers (is there even a Supreme Court chamber?) during the debates over this case.

    And the best part is, while most journalists and scholars predicted that the court would rule favorably for the plaintiffs, the drama behind the actual decision, the breadth of what came across as true understanding, sympathy and regret from the justices (though Scalia did not disappoint with his expected reactionary dissenting opinion, which was reported to have been delivered in a “biting, sarcastic voice” according to Newsweek) was breathtaking, not just to those present, but to those of us reading about the decision, and realizing that on June 26, the Supreme Court not only overturned a handful of laws that were very rarely enforced or even known about, but that they acknowledged a lifestyle that, before this day at best was often referred to as “alternative.” While little has changed perceptibly in the days following the decision, still, I feel that the word “alternative” is going to soon become just as antiquated as the sodomy laws, and that maybe soon enough the government will recognize that a lifestyle is a lifestyle, that sexual orientation is not just a sexual preference, and there’s no such thing as a standard “norm” to marginalize the “alternates.”

    Then again, there’s certainly something to be said for not being the norm. So maybe we should be careful of what we wish for.

  • Where’s the middle on all of this? Reading articles that came out immediately after the decision, we read about gay rights groups who are shedding tears of joy at the decision while conservative, Christian-based groups decry the decision as immoral. Here in San Francisco, gay veterans temporarily replaced the rainbow flag with an American flag, and this past weekend’s Pride celebration was probably one of the more raucous in recent memory. But I’m terribly curious about what the middle thinks. Upon hearing the decision and reading of the pure delight and dire predictions from the many groups on the extreme ends of opinion, I’m curious of what your typical Bob and Marsha Evans of, say, suburban St. Louis might be saying over their morning paper.Marsha (clearing her throat slightly and ruffling the section she’s reading.): Honey, did you know that what we did last night was technically illegal?
    Bob (lowering the paper): Last night… we didn’t do any… oh. You mean?
    Marsha (blushing, with a slight smile): Yes… that.
    Bob: Oh. Huh. (Pauses, then looks at his section of the paper again). So how’d the Cards do last night?

    Ok, so maybe we’re getting into my personal fantasies of what a suburban Midwestern couple’s breakfast conversation sounds like. But I guess my speculation will have to do until someone reports on what the majority of Americans think about this decision.

  • While this case in particular ruled in favor of a gay couple, the laws repealed forbade anal and oral sex, in some states just between homosexual couples, in even more, between heterosexual couples. The ruling obviously will have more impact on people who engage in same-sex relationships — I can’t imagine that in the nine states that forbade sodomy between any couple are now seeing a free-for-all in oral and anal contact. However, the media’s use of terms such as “gay sex” (as in the AP headline, “Supreme Court Strikes Down Gay Sex Ban”) in reference to sodomy is problematic. Not all gay men engage in anal or oral sex, nor do all lesbians. I’m not entirely sure what the letters of the law were for each of the states — arguably the laws in the states forbidding sodomy between same-sex couples worked with the definition of sodomy that entails sexual contact with someone of the same sex. But what about the states that forbade oral and anal contact for heterosexuals as well? Using the term “gay sex” to refer to anal and oral contact marginalizes these behaviors that don’t require a particular sexual orientation to be highly enjoyable. So while this case is clearly a landmark decision that may very well pave the way for even more significant cultural, social and political victories for gay men and women, this decision is really a victory for anyone who believes in the right to privacy, the right to decide what to do with their bodies and with their consenting partner(s).

All in all, these details and speculations are relatively minor in light of the huge significance and potential this case has opened up, but just the same, here’s to hoping all of the merry pranksters out there are scheming away.

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