Bloom ’08, Brace Scholar, Discusses Sodomy Law

Over the summer, Brace Center Student Fellow Oliver Bloom ’08 studied two sodomy cases whose verdicts were heavily influenced by the perception of the public. He presented his findings in “Freedom for Who? Sodomy Law, The Supreme Court and American Popular Opinion,” last Monday. The background of his project was based on the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case, in which Michael Hardwick was charged with violating the Georgia state law for having consensual sexual relations with another man. Although the trial took place in what Bloom called the “pinnacle of the gay rights movement,” the Supreme Court declared that there was no Constitutional protection for homosexual sodomy. Twelve years later, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Texas for violating “Homosexual Conduct,” Texas’ own anti-sodomy law. The subsequent 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case rescinded the 1987 ruling and replaced it with the Constitutional right to sodomy in privacy. Bloom analyzed the radical change in the two outcomes, despite the similar situations and politics. He said, “It is very important to note…how the law follows public opinion.” While the 1980’s featured the gay rights movement, the American public was not yet prepared for it in the mainstream. This issue manifested itself in the 1986 Supreme Court verdict, when the judges cited homosexual sodomy’s traditional ban in the United States, dating back to the 13 colonies’ original prohibitions on sodomy. Bloom said, “[The justices] go back even further, citing history of Western civilization, which was rooted in Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards. The court didn’t just cite American history; they didn’t just cite colonial history, [and] they didn’t even cite British history. They cited the Bible.” The court went on to emphasize the implications of homosexual sodomy on the United States, playing on the public’s present discrimination against gays. Discrimination against gays was so pronounced that one act of sodomy was punished with 20 years in prison. “This is more than you get for arson,” Bloom said. By 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the ruling against homosexual sodomy. This summer, Bloom studied library books and court transcripts under the guidance of his advisor, History and Social Science Instructor Anthony Rotundo. Bloom’s presentation revealed a different side of justice even in modern times. “The most interesting thing is how laws in the U.S. can be based on the judgment of maybe five people and nothing more than that. How five people feel on one particular day, how they write on one particular piece of paper, affects the lives of [many] more than five,” said Bloom.