A fascinating one-of-a-kind history of the government's regulation of sexual behavior
From the Pentagon to the wedding chapel, there are few issues more controversial today than gay rights. As William Eskridge persuasively demonstrates in Dishonorable Passions, there is nothing new about this political and legal obsession. The American colonies and the early states prohibited sodomy as the "crime against nature," but rarely punished such conduct if it took place behind closed doors. By the twentieth century, America's emerging regulatory state targeted "degenerates" and (later) "homosexuals." The witch hunts of the McCarthy era caught very few Communists but ruined the lives of thousands of homosexuals. The nation's sexual revolution of the 1960s fueled a social movement of people seeking repeal of sodomy laws, but it was not until the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) that private sex between consenting adults was decriminalized. With dramatic stories of both the hunted (Walt Whitman and Margaret Mead) and the hunters (Earl Warren and J. Edgar Hoover), Dishonorable Passions reveals how American sodomy laws affected the lives of both homosexual and heterosexual Americans. Certain to provoke heated debate, Dishonorable Passions is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of sexuality and its regulation in the United States.
Today's battle for same-sex marriage rights is only the latest step in the long struggle by lesbians and gay men to overturn a complex web of state laws banning nonreproductive sexual activity, often by heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. Laws against sodomy--or crimes against nature, as they were called by colonial lawmakers--were based on English common law emanating from Christian interpretations of a few biblical passages. The Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 2003. n this fascinating and engaging survey, Yale law professor Eskridge (Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse?) charts not just the destructive history of those laws, but also the long, complex and often deeply contradictory history of how Americans thought about sex and the right to privacy. While clearly explaining the laws' origins and impact from colonial America through the 19th century, most of the book examines how, from the 1930s onward, sodomy laws increasingly became the legal tool by which homosexuals were denied jobs and even the right to public assembly. Interweaving legal discussion with personal stories and social history, Eskridge gives an incisive, panoramic view of America's (slowly) changing attitudes toward homosexuality, sexual tolerance and personal freedom. B&w photos. (May 5)
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April 29, 2008
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