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A High Court Decision and a Sense of Betrayal

July 06, 1986|John Rechy | Novelist John Rechy teaches graduate students in USC's Professional Writing Program.

For homosexuals throughout the land, the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that the Constitution does not protect private homosexual relations has eroded much trust in their country's system of justice. A sense of "betrayal" is reiterated among younger homosexuals, while older homosexuals see a potential return to the violent repression of years past. There is a further, subtle cruelty in the timing of the decision, coming as it does on the eve of Independence Day, the honoring of American liberties--now excluding homosexuals.

A young New York producer expresses "disillusionment at years of believing that whatever the President or Congress might do, the Supreme Court would protect our freedoms." A young Los Angeles performance artist describes himself as "suddenly cut adrift from freedom in my country." A director of youth services predicts a time when homosexuals may have "to look state-by-state to find acceptance as non-criminals."

Older homosexuals recall a similar climate that allowed years of invisible outrages: prison sentences of up to life; suicides; blackmail resulting from arrests; roundups out of gay bars and into waiting police vans. Policemen were known to shadow men leaving bars and to break into private residences.

Are reactions of betrayal and fears of burgeoning repression justified? I strongly believe so.

Not since the Supreme Court declared in the Dred Scott case that slavery was legal and blacks were not citizens has there been a high court ruling as seeped in prejudice as this one. In a cold, almost mocking tone, the decision reads at times like a biased tract. Ignoring any separation of church and state, it quickly asserts its basis in "moral teaching," the "ancient roots" of "Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards." From Roman courts to "the King' courts," "ecclesiastical courts," it roams over centuries of bloody history to pluck out selective indictments of homosexuality in accusing language: "heinous . . . abominable." It reminds, chillingly, that homosexuality was once a capital crime.

It asserts a sophistry that banishes fairness: For centuries homosexual acts have been considered criminal; therefore they remain criminal acts to be condemned today. If longevity of prejudice is an antecedent for legal rulings, the same argument would hold against blacks, Latinos, Jews, Asians, women--all objects of historical persecution. The same religious and historical sources cited throughout allowed for slavery, burnings at the stake, torture, religious persecution--the punishment of adultery by death, the stoning of disobedient children. Shall the Court enforce these?

In a separate concurring opinion, Chief Justice Warren Burger feels the need to "underscore" his view that "in constitutional terms there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy." Substitute the inflammatory phrase "homosexual sodomy" with "heterosexual sex acts," and the impact of the law is clear. Indeed, the Georgia statute here upheld extends its malice to acts by married heterosexual couples, allowing the government to pry into all private lives.

In an eloquent dissent from this violent invasion of "houses, hearts, and minds," Justice Harry Blackmun affirms true "values most deeply rooted in our nation's history." He then enunciates the precise attitude being expressed by individual homosexuals throughout the country: "I think the court today betrays those values."

The onslaught of prejudice unleashed by the Supreme Court is a cause for deep shame in the country.

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