I’m a Criminal

At least according* to a “non-enforced” anti-gay law on the books of the State of Utah.

Utah is among the 18 states that keep their sodomy laws on the books in obtuse denial of the 2003 SCOTUS decision Lawrence v. Texas.  Thankfully, we are not among those who enforce these laws, even selectively.  However, as Carlos Maza notes, even where these laws are not enforced, they lead to biased and unequal treatment under the law, de facto encouragement of vigilante enforcement under “gay panic” and contribute to hostile social climates that harm at risk populations, as we’ve seen in the suicides of LGBT youth, which is only now getting recognition as a real problem.

The push for equality post-Lawrence has largely shifted from earlier efforts at decriminalization toward equal opportunities and protections under the law.  While this is wonderful thing, I sometimes worry that we’re neglecting some of the fuzzier parts of decriminalizations at our peril (as we’ve seen with reproductive rights lately, the littler issues have a way of building to begin undermining the SCOTUS decision itself).  The official Republican Party platform in Montana, for example, stresses continuing to enshrine anti-gay laws, and calls for re-criminalization.

Homosexual Acts

We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal.

Moreover, the language used in the Lawrence decision has allowed some states to inappropriately or disproportionately target gay individuals in an effort to skirt the intent of decriminalizing private consensual sex acts.  These states approach their oppression  in different ways.

For example:

In Michigan, the practice of charging and convicting gay men under the state’s “Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature” or “Gross Indecency” laws still exists, with violators facing the risk of having to register as sex offenders and prison sentences of up to 15 years. According to Rudy Serra, attorney and Chairman of the Executive Clemency Council for the State of Michigan, police officers continue to aggressively prosecute LGBT people without legal challenge

Other states may instead simply use these laws to treat gay individuals more harshly under the law.  Kansas, for example, will allow the Romeo and Juliet exceptions for statutory rape to exist for only heterosexual couples:

Because the defendant, Matthew Limon, was of the same sex as the younger boy, however, the Romeo and Juliet law’s shortened presumptive sentence did not apply, subjecting Limon instead to the severely long prison sentence and to sex offender registration requirements.

Even in states where the laws are not even partially enforced, the existence in law tends to create a climate among police and prosecutors where negative stereotypes about gay people play heavily into how their cases are handled under the law.  I’m almost positive that was a huge factor in what happened to D.J. Bell and his partner in how the beating and attempted murders were resolved in court.

It’s a grisly tale, so don’t follow the above link unless you’re made of stern stuff and willing to be made furious.  To summarize, neighbors wrongly accused Mr. Bell of kidnapping, and the neighbor and family proceeded to beat the living shit out of them, no doubt thinking they may die of their injuries before help arrived.  Police arrested Mr. Bell for kidnapping, and completely ignored their duty to investigate the blood spattered scene.  It took a full year for the trial to play out to his inevitable vindication, during which time the attackers faced no charges for their actions.  After great outcry, five individuals were eventually charged, and pled guilty to lesser charges.  The sentences they are currently facing are as follows: 3 are facing up to five years in prison, 1 is facing up to a year and the last has only a year of probation.  If that doesn’t suggest a generalized bias, I don’t know what would.

* By the way, the Equality Matters article is very well written.  I recommend it highly.

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