Homosexuality and the Law
Throughout history, laws have existed in the Western world that prohibited homosexual behavior, even on pain of death. In the United States, sodomy has been illegal since colonial days, and it was punishable by death until the late 18th century. Fellatio was technically legal until the early 20th century, although it was considered to be “loathsome and revolting” (Murphy, 1990). All 50 states outlawed homosexual acts until 1961.
As we discussed earlier in this chapter, in 2003 the Supreme Court overturned the Texas antisodomy law (which made consensual sex between same sex couples illegal). Prior to 2003, under Texas homosexual conduct law, for ex-
ample, individuals who engaged in “deviate sexual intercourse” with a person of the same sex (even if the partner was consenting) were charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 in fines (LAMBDA, 2001).
Many gay, lesbian and bisexual employees are discriminated against on the job, yet they have little legal recourse. Homosexuals are often denied equal housing rights through exclusionary zoning, rent control, and rent stabilization laws. Even in longterm, committed, same-sex couples, partners are routinely denied the worker’s compensation and healthcare benefits normally extended to a spouse or dependents. In addition, gay and lesbian couples are denied tax breaks, Social Security benefits, and rights of inheritance, all of which are available to married heterosexual couples. Some gay and lesbian couples have even resorted to legally adopting their partners in order to extend benefits they would otherwise be denied (Harvard Law Review, 1990).
Why Do Laws Discriminate Against Homosexuals?
Why are homosexuals in the United States so routinely denied the rights that the rest of the country takes for granted? What is the justification for denying homosexuals protection against housing discrimination, job discrimination, and invasions of their sexual privacy?
When it comes to sexual orientation, a liberal-conservative split exists in government as well. Some of those who are appointed to guard our rights in this country— judges and the legal community—hold predominantly negative views of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The efforts of local, grass-roots gay organizations, as well as the national efforts of groups like the LAMBDA Legal Defense and Education Fund, may yet break through the wall of legal inaction that prevents homosexuals from fighting the discrimination and victimization they experience in the United States.