The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, June 11

Jim Burroway

June 11th, 2013

Life Magazine Opposes Decriminalization: 1965. A year before, Life magazine published a groundbreaking essay on “Homosexuality in America,” (see Jun 26), which was notable for being one of the earliest relatively balanced portrayals of gay life in California. Gay rights advocates had hoped that the article might  portend more positive press for gay issues, at least in the pages of Life, but that hope proved short-lived. In 1965, there was a proposal before the New York legislature to repeal that state’s sodomy law, which banned “deviant sexual intercourse” between unmarried persons. If passed, New York would have become only the second state, after Illinois, to decriminalize consensual sexual behavior between gay adults (see Jul 28). Life, in an unsigned, self-contradictory and illogical editorial in its June 11, 1965 edition, opposed the proposal:

As readers of LIFE’s survey of homosexuality in America will remember, the “gay world” (actually a sad world) is coming increasingly above ground in many big cities and is lobbying for more sympathetic treatment. Homosexuality is frequently curable, but jail is the last place to expect a cure, and the laws restricting it are notoriously ineffective. Enforcement is either nonexistent or unjust and repugnant because of its peep-hole and entrapment methods. …

But the legislative debates have produced some robustious arguments on the other side. In Albany one legislator, who favored lifting the sanctions against adultery but not against homosexuality, explained that “after all, there are more of us than there are of them.”

There are more cogent arguments for retaining the laws against homosexuality. Its practice can and does break up families; and protection of the family is a legitimate area for legislation. Repeal would imply an indifference that society cannot afford. Until it finds a better way of discouraging the practice, a statute at least expresses society’s disapproval.

The proposal failed to make it into law, and New York’s sodomy law would remain on the books until 1980 when the New York Court of Appeals struck it down as unconstitutional.

[Source: “The law and the homosexual problem.” Life 58, no. 23. (June 11, 1965): 4.]

Wilma Burgess: 1939. Before Chely Wright came out, there was k.d. lang. But before k.d. lang — before everyone, in fact — there was Wilma Burgess. The difference with Burgess however was that she never really came out. She was always out, throughout her career. She enjoyed recording romantic ballads, but in a break from most “girl singers,” she avoided recording gender-specific songs whenever she could. A southerner from Orlando, Wilma wasn’t much interested in country music when she first began singing professionally. But when she attended an Eddie Arnold concert, she was struck by the emotional honesty of Arnold’s music. She made her way to Nashville in 1962 where she cut her first single. “Confuses” didn’t really go anywhere, but it got her a contract for Decca Records.

After a several singles, she landed pay dirt in 1965 with “Baby,” which peaked at #7 on the country music charts. That same year, she purchased Patsy Cline’s old home in Nashville. In 1966 she recorded two more notable hits, “Don’t Touch Me” and “Misty Blue,” which became her signature song. That song was eventually covered by the man who inspired her to perform country music, Eddie Arnold. She had several more Top Forty country hits, but by the mid-1970s she decided to retire from the music business. She then opened the Hitching Post, Nashville’s first lesbian bar, where she regularly performed. She died suddenly in 2003 of a massive heart attack.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Richard Rush

June 11th, 2013

My husband says the New York Court of Appeals struck down the state’s sodomy law in 1980 (not 1970), and it was another two decades until it was removed from the books.

Jim Burroway

June 11th, 2013

He’s right. That should have read 1980.

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