The Daily Agenda for Sunday, July 28
July 28th, 2013
Pride Celebrations Today: Halifax, NS; Hamburg, Germany; Latvia, Lithuania (Baltic Pride); London, ON; Peel, ON; Pittsburgh, PA (Black Pride); Raleigh-Durham, NC (Black Pride); Stuttgart, Germany.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Illinois Rescinds Sodomy Law: 1961. On this date in history, the state of Illinois led the nation in becoming the first state in the land to enact a repeal of it’s law criminalizing homosexuality. The repeal was part of a very large omnibus legal overhaul of the state’s criminal code, and much of that overhaul was based on the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code, which in 1956 recommended the elimination of anti-sodomy laws and other prohibitions against consensual sexual activity between consenting adults. Because the Model Penal Code also touched on a plethora of other criminal statues, it’s likely that most Illinois lawmakers didn’t realize that they were repealing their anti-sodomy law by adopting the Code. Nevertheless, the code was adopted, and the anti-sodimy law’s repeal became effective on January 1, 1962.
For the next decade, Illinois would remain the only state in the union to legalize consensual adult same-sex relationships. In 1971, Connecticut finally rescinded its sodomy law, followed by Colorado and Oregon (1972), Hawaii and North Dakota (1973), Ohio (1974), New Hampshire and New Mexico (1975). The big year was 1976, when California, Indiana, Maine, Washington and West Virginia stopped criminalizing homosexuality. By the time Lawrence v. Texas struck down all sodomy laws nationwide in 2003, thirty-six states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had eliminated their anti-gay statutes, either by legislative action or by state court decisions. Today, the focus on legal recognition for gay people is on marriage. Only a third of U.S. citizens now live in states which provide marriage equality, but progress on that front is accelerating. But it all began with that first step in the Land of Lincoln.
England, Wales Rescinds Gross Indecency Law: 1967. On July 28, 1967, Queen Elizabeth II gave her Royal Assent to the Sexual Offenses Bill, which marked a significant overhaul of Britain’s laws regulating sexual practices between consenting adults. The Royal Assent was the last act in a long, tortuous path toward finally getting rid of the Gross Indecency statute that had ensnared so many victims like the famous playwright Oscar Wilde and WWII code-breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing. The law penalized male homosexuality with up to two years in prison; consensual sexual acts between lesbians was not illegal, largely because the phenomenon was unknown when the Gross Indecency statute was last amended in the nineteenth century.
On July 4, Parliament voted 99-14 to approve the Sexual Offenses Bill in a free non-party vote by a tiny percentage of the more than 600-member chamber. The vote took place after an acrimonious eight-hour all-night debate. Home Secretary Roy Jenkins took pains to reassure members that “this is not a vote of confidence in, or congratulations for, homosexuality.” Supporters said that the bill would eliminate one of the most frequent causes of espionage: blackmail of gay diplomats and other officials.
But Labor member Peter Mahon summed up the feelings of those who opposed repeal. “It is by no means unnatural to have a feeling of absolute revulsion against a bill of this kind. Without any lack of charity I say without equivocation it was a bad bill to begin with, it is a bad bill now and will be a bad bill until the end of time. It will be a bad bill throughout eternity because homosexual acts are a perversion of natural function.” Conservative member Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles warned darkly that “decent and reasonable” people of Britain would react violently when they realized what Parliament had done. “It will only encourage our enemies and those who disparage us, and it can only dismay our friends,” he declared. Another Torry MP, Sir Cyril Osborne, said that many peple were tired of democracy being made safe for “pimps, prostitutes, spivs and pansies — and now for queers.”
The law then went to the House of Lords, which gave its approval to the measure on July 21. Lord Arran, the Conservative Whip and longtime supporter of repeal, quoted Oscar Wilde in closing the debate. “We shall win in the end, but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms.” Lord Arran’s subsequent statement then reflected the ambiguity most politicians felt who supported the bill: “I ask one thing. I ask those who have, as it were, been in bondage for whom the prison doors are now opened to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity. This is no occasion for jubilation and certainly not for celebrations. Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being homosexual, there is certainly nothing good.”
(In a related note, Wikipedia has this anecdote about Lord Arran: “Arran was the sponsor in the House of Lords of Leo Abse’s 1967 private member’s bill which decriminalised homosexuality between two consenting adult males. He also sponsored a bill for the protection of badgers. He was once asked why the badger bill had not received enough support to pass whereas decriminalising homosexuality had. ‘Not many badgers in the House of Lords,’ he replied.”)
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?