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Wed Oct 9, 2019, 12:23 AM

LGBT History Month: 1976, the Supreme Court slapped down a sodomy law challenge with just four words

As the Supreme Court considers three LGBTQ rights cases this term, we are reminded of the first test case against sodomy laws, and efforts in 1976 related to it to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In an historic 1964 speech to the Mattachine Society of New York, “Civil Liberties: Progress Report,” Frank Kameny, cofounder of the independent Mattachine Society of Washington DC, said: “[W]ith due regard to strategy and tactics, we must take a bold, strong, uncompromising initiative in working for these rights; that the established framework of authority, constituted and otherwise, must be challenged directly by every lawful means at hand.”

One of those, he proposed, was launching cases challenging antigay laws. But it wasn’t until a decade later, after some seemingly encouraging privacy protection rulings such as Roe v. Wade, that the time seemed right for the movement to attack sodomy laws in court.

While private consensual acts were rarely prosecuted because they rarely came to the attention of police, acts in quasi-public places such as movie theaters more often were. And by defining gays as an ipso facto “criminal class” such laws were often used to justify every other kind of antigay oppression and discrimination, particularly in the workplace.


Given what is happening today, are we seeing an echo through time? Are we again to see; “The judgment is affirmed.”

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