EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/Sex in the city
Battles over domestic issues seem to have a place in Kentucky’s history, although there is some debate over whether the Hatfields and McCoys were struggling over a pig or a relationship between Roseanne McCoy and Johnse Hatfield. Well, for the past several months, Lexington, Ky.’s mayor and her council members have been arguing over whether to extend the local government’s benefits to domestic partners, and so far, they have reached a stalemate over the issue.
However, more than 100 local governments have extended benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples, and, as you would expect, a few have met with vocal and, sometimes, legal opposition. The arguments on both sides are predictable. Proponents say extending benefits is a more equitable way to treat all employees and that it will help attract and keep them, while opponents argue that extending benefits to unmarried couples will cost money and conflict with the sanctity of marriage.
The domestic partner benefits debate is a sexy issue in the truest since of the phrase because somewhere under the sheets of the arguments is the right to choose whom to have sex with and under what circumstances. This is not a new issue for local governments, but recently it has appeared as the most visceral element in the so-called culture wars that range from abortion to gay rights.
Texas’ state sodomy law grabbed headlines earlier this year when police entered an apartment in Houston looking for a man with a gun who, according to a neighbor, was “going crazy.” What they discovered, though, were two adult men engaged in sex. Texas courts upheld the sodomy conviction, but, last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against it.
Locally, the sex wars are continuing. This month, a Johnson County, Texas, woman was accused of violating its obscenity law by selling sex toys at “Passion Parties.” Local police went undercover to purchase the devices and later filed charges. If convicted, the mother of three and member of the Burleson, Texas, Chamber of Commerce could face a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
In another case last month, Luray, Va.’s 65-year-old attorney of 32 years was convicted of adultery after a complaint was made by the woman with whom he had been having an affair. The attorney paid a $125 fine plus $36 in court costs and is appealing the ruling. Nearby Washington, D.C., just decided to end its adultery law as its mayor signed the Outdated Crimes Amendment Act of 2003. Furthermore, in the next year, the city will be distributing more than 500,000 free condoms to schools and many of its offices, including the human services, motor vehicles and public works departments, to help reduce the spread of AIDS.
Many more battles in the sex wars will be fought locally, but the core issue will remain: Should local governments judge when it is wrong to have sex and with whom? I am not certain they should, but I’m sure the Hatfields and McCoys would be proud of the way we’ve been fighting over it.