In an April 30 essay titled “The Libertarian Question,” my NRO colleague Stanley Kurtz argues that laws against sodomy, adultery, and incest have protected the institution of heterosexual marriage. By stigmatizing sexual relations outside that institution, Kurtz believes “the taboo on non-marital and non-reproductive sexuality helps to cement marital unions, and helps prevent acts of adultery that would tear those unions apart.”
Kurtz also states that keeping adult incest illegal will reduce the odds of sex between adults and their minor relatives. Anti-pedophilia laws, virtually everyone agrees, should be energetically enforced, whether or not the child molesters and their victims are family members.
While Kurtz himself opposes sodomy laws, those who support these restrictions tend to overlook the fact that they can throw adults in jail for having consensual sex. Approval or disapproval of homosexual, adulterous, or incestuous behavior among those over 18 is not the issue. Americans should remain free to applaud such acts or, conversely, denounce them as mortal sins. The public-policy question at hand is whether American adults should or should not be handcuffed and thrown behind bars for copulating with people of the same sex, outside their own marriages or within their bloodlines.
If this sounds like hyperbole, consider the case of Lawrence and Garner v. Texas, currently before the Supreme Court.
On September 17, 1998, Harris County sheriffs deputies responded to a phony complaint from Roger Nance, a disgruntled neighbor of John Geddes Lawrence, then 55. They entered an unlocked door to Lawrence’s eighth-floor Houston apartment looking for an armed gunman. While no such intruder existed, they did discover Lawrence having sex with another man named Tyron Garner, then 31.
“The police dragged them from Mr. Lawrence’s home in their underwear,” says Brian Chase, a staff attorney with the Dallas office of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund which argued on the gentlemen’s behalf before the Supreme Court. “They were put in jail for 24 hours. As a result of their conviction, they would have to register as sex offenders in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. If this arrest had taken place in Oklahoma, they could have faced 10 years in prison. It’s kind of frightening.” Lawrence and Garner were fined $200 each plus $141.25 in court costs.
Ironically, Chase adds by phone, “At the time the Texas penal code was revised in 1972, heterosexual sodomy was removed as a criminal offense, as was bestiality.”
Even though some conservatives want government to discourage non-procreative sex, those Houston sheriff’s deputies cops could not have apprehended a husband and wife engaged in non-reproductive oral or anal sex (although married, heterosexual couples still can be prosecuted for those acts in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia). And were Lawrence caught naked in bed with a Rottweiler, consenting or otherwise, the sheriffs could not have done more than suggest he pick on someone his own species. However, because Lawrence preferred the company of a willing, adult human being of his same sex, both were shuttled to the hoosegow.
“The point is, this could happen to anyone,” Chase says. “This was the result of a malicious prank call made by a neighbor who was later arrested and jailed for 15 days for filing a false report.”
As for grownups who lure children into acts of homosexuality, adultery and incest, the perpetrators cannot be imprisoned quickly enough. The moment members of the North American Man-Boy Love Association go beyond discussion of pedophilia to actions in pursuit thereof, someone should call 911 and throw into squad cars the men who seek intimate contact with males under 18. Period.
The libertarian question still confronts policymakers. Should laws against adult homosexuality, adultery and incest potentially place taxpaying Americans over 18 behind bars for such behavior? Priests, ministers, rabbis and other moral leaders may decry these activities. But no matter how much people may frown upon these sexual appetites, consenting American adults should not face incarceration for yielding to such temptations.
Here is the libertarian answer to this burning question: Things deemed distasteful should not always be illegal. This response is one that every freedom-loving American should embrace.
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.