Justice Begins in the Bedroom

It was great getting up on June 27, 2003, to read the headlines stating that the highest court of this land struck down the Texas law that had criminalized sexual relationships between consenting adults. The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision was momentous — especially given the conservative composition of the court and the reactionary times in which we reside.

To see photos of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner of Houston — the two men who spurred the case — giving the nation a victory smile signaled, at least legislatively, a shift in protecting the private lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in this country.

However, while you can alter laws in this country to do the right thing toward a disenfranchised segment of the population, you cannot always alter the hearts and attitudes of its citizens. For some, this victory is seen as a signed decree sanctioning sexual depravity, and Newsweek reported on its “ick factor,” the revulsion some heterosexuals feel toward the way we LGBT people engage in sexual intimacy. Altering the hearts and minds of these folks will take a while, if not a lifetime.

The silent issue in the Lawrence v. Texas case is race… The interracial component of Garner’s and Lawrence’s relationship disgusted some folks — black and white — just as much as them being gay.

Not only does this victory infuriate certain segments of the population, it highlights two volatile issues still operative in this country, and we no doubt will see a backlash.

First, the silent issue in the Lawrence v. Texas case is race. While race was not on trial, it was certainly the elephant in the room. The legal protection for interracial coupling was won in the now-famous case Loving v. Virginia. Mildred Loving, an African-American woman violated the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia, laws that were prevalent throughout the U.S., by marrying a white man. Struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 1967, no state today can prohibit such a union. The interracial component of Garner’s and Lawrence’s relationship disgusted some folks — black and white — just as much as them being gay. Many have speculated that the bogus call to the police about a burglary from a prying neighbor was not only about “gross indecency between males,” that gay writer Oscar Wilde in 1895 was convicted of, but also motivated by racism.

Second, Justice Kennedy stated in favor of the ruling, “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.”

While many of us know that the legal heart of this matter is about privacy, that all sexual relationships — heterosexual and queer — between consenting adults should feel safe from unwarranted intrusions into our homes by the government, many still feel, however, that the moral soul of the issue is that an act of sodomy is an abomination to God.

As one of the most quoted scriptures to argue for compulsory heterosexuality, the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative has become authoritatively damaging not only to LGBT people, but to women as well, because women are the real victims we read about in the text…

In an interview with The Associated Press months before the Texas sodomy case was decided, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the number three man in the Republican Party leadership and a devout Roman Catholic who attends Mass everyday, stated, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything,” he said. “All of those things are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

The invention of sodomy is rooted in Christian theology. The anti-sodomitic theological tradition derives from a homophobic and misogynist reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis 19. As one of the most quoted scriptures to argue for compulsory heterosexuality, the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative has become authoritatively damaging not only to LGBT people, but to women as well, because women are the real victims we read about in the text, and LGBT people are the scapegoats who are read into the text.

Functioning in this culture as one of the paradigmatic biblical text of terror, the narrative is used to police the sexual behaviors of LGBT people and women, but the text is not used to police the sexual behaviors and sexual violence of men. The preferential treatment given to men in this text ironically carries over into our real lives today; thus, setting up unequal gender and sexual dynamics that sets the stage for unequal power dynamics in our bedrooms that is not only unsettling for women and LGBT people, but also unsafe for them. How often have we heard of women being raped not by strangers on the street, but instead by male members in their families? And how often have we heard of “The Gay Panic Defense,” an anti-gay strategy employed by attorneys to win an acquittal for a homophobic client who claims that a LGBT person came on to him — providing his “justification” for killing the person.

Our understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation is a relatively new concept that we read into the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative. It reflects the culture in which we presently live. Just as there is no word in the Bible for homosexuality, there is also no word in the Bible for sodomy. Peter Damian, an 11th-century medieval theologian invented the word “sodomia” to mean sinful behavior in engaging in diverse acts having to do with the genitals. Historically the word “sodomy” became an umbrella term for any sexual practice by both heterosexuals and queers deemed licentious and dishonorable that digressed from the sanctioned missionary position. This included not only anal sex, but also homosexual sex, oral sex, and masturbation. Over the years, however, these sexual acts came to be used to criminalize only LGBT people.

Just as there is no word in the Bible for homosexuality, there is also no word in the Bible for sodomy.

Present day feminist and queer biblical scholars who are in opposition to anti-sodomitic theological tradition contest that the narrative has nothing to do with homosexual sex, but instead the text is about inhospitality to male strangers and sexual violence toward women.

For example, in reference to the two uninvited male strangers/angels who come to the city of Sodom to inform Lot of the city’s impending destruction, Lot says to the crowd of riotous men outside of his door (verses 7-8), “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

Therefore, one would argue that the sin of Sodom is not about the sexual acts between consenting LGBT people, but instead that the sin of Sodom is about the cultural acceptance of sexual violence toward women, and in Lot’s days women were the property of their fathers and husbands. Also, all later biblical references to the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative does not associate the story to homosexuality, but instead to wickedness, idolatry, desolation and destruction.

Overturning Texas’ same-sex sodomy law marks a new era not only for LGBT people, but also for all Americans. The sanctity of our private sexual lives must be protected, because the issue of our private lives is a matter of justice not only to be argued openly in the courtrooms, but also is a justice issue to be acted out privately in our bedrooms.

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