Minnesota needs to change sex laws

The Minnesota population likes to think of itself as progressive. The state is known to vote differently than the rest of the country and Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura is a prime example. However, based on recent events occurring in Georgia, we are now legislatively backwards.
Last week, the Georgia State Supreme Court overturned their state’s sodomy act. That action has gay rights activists giddy with joy because it’s led to a challenge to the Texas state sodomy law as well. Ironically, what could be a big step forward in indirect gay rights legislation occurred because of a heterosexual rape case.
Contrary to popular belief that sodomy laws only apply to homosexuals, in 13 of the 18 states with sodomy laws on the books, the laws are directed toward heterosexual and homosexual conduct. Minnesota is one of those 13 states.
Anyone who has ever had oral or anal sex — based on these laws — is technically considered a criminal. They have violated the so-called “crimes against nature” laws. At one point, all 50 states had sodomy laws, but most grew to find that those laws were completely ridiculous. They are rarely enforced and many people don’t even know they exist. How could they? Who’s ever had a police officer knock on their door with a warrant to search the house for people having oral sex?
Actually, the challenge to Texan law occurred last week when a police officer entered the bedroom of two men and found them having sex. He fined them each $125. I wonder if he knocked first.
Georgia’s presence in this sodomy showdown extends beyond the most recent ruling. In 1986, Michael Hardwick brought his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hardwick and his lover also experienced having a police officer walk in on them during sex. After going to the Supreme Court with the argument that it was unconstitutional to be punished for consensual adult actions occurring in one’s own home, he lost his case. In fact, Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that affording gay people “the same rights of privacy enjoyed by straight people” would be “to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.” That was in 1986. Sounds like it was written sometime in the 1800s.
This makes Georgia’s ruling on the case an even bigger deal. The overturning of a Supreme Court decision sets a new national precedent. This precedent raises interesting issues.
The decision is one that unfortunately and most likely would not have happened had the case involved homosexual activity. The fact that the sodomy law was struck from the books is good, and worth celebrating. However, I feel awful because the case is a nasty one and had nothing to do with defense of gay rights.
Anthony Powell was originally on trial for the rape of his 17-year-old niece. His lawyers argued that it was consensual, and won the case — never mind her minor status or the incest aspect of their relationship. But Powell didn’t go to jail for rape or incest. He had anal sex with his niece, and that is what he was convicted for.
I, for one, am not excited about Powell’s return to the streets, but he should have been convicted on the rape charge — a real crime — as opposed to a law about particular sex acts. This decision is a final one. It can’t be appealed because the state supreme court is the final route in contesting state constitution issues.
This won’t stop moralists and conservatives from trying to initiate something else, though. What they will be attempting to do is to get the sodomy law written into the state constitution. That will take a public referendum and a two-thirds majority approval in the legislature.
There are more important issues than sodomy laws — hunger, public transit, housing, education — but none are quite as enticing and exciting to the moral majority as sex. Sex, sex, sex. They are so afraid of it, yet so drawn to it. Why do they want to poke around peoples’ bedrooms? Who knows …
“The issue is whether or not the state is going to condone sinful behavior,” said Georgia Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson. It’s good to know that our government is so concerned about what will happen to our souls when we’re dead. Does anyone else see a theocratic ideology in this?
It seems redundant to argue that the law is hypocritical in and of itself because so many people have sex in ways other than the missionary position. And politicians don’t need to carve peepholes into our bedroom walls. The importance of this decision for the gay community is fairly big. With all the anti-discrimination laws in the world, if you can be arrested for your specific sexual practices, gays and lesbians have gained nothing. It’s political double talk to say that a certain group of people has rights when their behavior is outlawed.
Noting again that these laws also mostly apply to heterosexual relations, notice that the case the sodomy law was used in was a rape case. Comparing being gay to rape: There aren’t words to describe how asinine that is. It’s costly and boring to remove laws from the books, but just remember that if we don’t, Minnesota will retain its ability to prosecute for consensual, private sexual activity. Better lock your bedroom door.
Sara Hurley’s column appears every Monday. Send comments to [email protected]