Thursday, April 21, 2011

The usefulness of a dead law

I gave my last lecture of the semester today (a review session). Next is writing the final exams and administering them next week. I'm way behind on interesting ideas and articles to share with you. We'll see how far I get before visiting family for the weekend.

Back in 2003 anti-sodomy laws were repealed by the Supremes in the Lawrence v. Texas case. However, there are still 14 states (here's a map) that have the law still on the books (one of them is Michigan), though on 4 of those states the law only applies to gays. Montana is the most recent state where an attempt to repeal fizzled, which was just a couple months ago.

So why is the law still there if it can't be enforced? The GOP in these states wants gays to make sure that gays know their place and in Texas, in particular, there is a lot of noise about disregarding the ruling. Put another way, GOP legislators in these states know reelection is more likely if they keep a law that can't be enforced.

There's another reason for keeping the law, one I've heard is practiced in Michigan (alas, no link). With the law on the books, cops can arrest gays for violating it. The lawyers say that law can't be enforced and the gays are released. So what's the problem? Being arrested and kept in not-very-friendly police custody can by itself by traumatic. The police (and their political backers) like having that threat over gays.

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