Dec 13, 2013
The Bigger Bathroom Picture
Posted on Sep 5, 2007
BOSTON—Well, that didn’t take long. A mere five days from the Roll Call revelations to the presumed resignation. Thirty-three years of public service down the toilet, and that is the last bathroom joke I’ll make.
When Larry Craig got caught in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport restroom, Republican stalwarts broke the speed record turning him from the distinguished senator into the disgusting senator. Gay rights groups did not rise to the defense of their public enemy. The only politician expressing actual empathy for Craig was Jim McGreevey, the “outed” former governor of New Jersey who is now—you cannot make this stuff up—in divinity school.
By Tuesday, even Idahoans thought it was all over. The most popular news on the Idaho Statesman website was about a woman rock climber who got her long hair caught in the ropes while she rappelling.
Now what’s happening? It looks like Craig’s “intention to resign” left a loophole as wide as his stance. If he can fight off the charges to which he pleaded guilty, his spokesman and his lawyer now say, he may not resign.
I have no desire to throw myself between Craig and the madding crowd. He was never my kind of senator. I don’t want to send my grandson into a public restroom used for assignations. Nor do I enjoy watching another humiliated wife standing by her husband.
Craig was charged with violating privacy under what is essentially a peeping tom law. The charge was dropped because it would never have held up. He then pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. But what exactly was the disorder or the conduct? Soliciting sex in a public place? In fact, all he actually did was tap his feet and put his hand under a stall. As Dale Carpenter at the University of Minnesota Law School notes, there was no specific sexual allegation, no indecent exposure, no money, no abuse, and the other man—the policeman—tapped back. “Can’t you send ambiguous signals in Minnesota without it being a crime?” asks Carpenter.
The stinger, lest you forget, was a 29-year-old police officer with a master’s degree. He must have been trained in gay codes before being assigned to sit in bathrooms waiting for a flirtatious shoe. Isn’t there a murder to be solved in Minneapolis?
Sex stings to catch gays have been around for more than a century. Sodomy itself was illegal in Minnesota until 2001. It was a “crime against nature” in Idaho, punishable by five years to life in prison. Then in 2003, the Supreme Court finally overturned all the laws against sodomy.
Today, the same people who couldn’t legally have sex can get legally married in Massachusetts, and form civil unions or partnerships in six other states. In the midst of the Craig debacle, an Iowa court briefly allowed gay marriage. But last fall, Idaho joined the vast majority of states in voting to ban it.
What a time of duality. Leading Democratic candidates for president flocked to a gay forum and pledged allegiance to civil unions—but not marriage. Many Republican pols split between private acceptance and public hostility, welcoming Mary Cheney’s baby and rousing the religious right. Even Craig’s son, while supporting his father’s denial, added, “Gay or straight, that part doesn’t matter.”
Yet the stings go on. Craig was only one of 40 arrested since May in Minneapolis. There were 45 arrested in the Atlanta airport this year. How many elsewhere? There must be saner ways to keep a restroom from becoming a meeting ground, better than using a dubious law that shames men into pleading guilty for the same reason Craig did: humiliation and the fear of exposure. “I don’t call media,” said the policeman. But exposure often follows. So too, the loss of a license or a lifetime of registering as a sex offender.
Craig is trapped in the time warp of same-sex relationships that now run from anonymity to marriage, from the closet to the altar. How much does it—“gay or straight”—matter to the man who grew up on a cattle ranch, studied in a one-room school, became student body president at the University of Idaho, and then a senator?
Whether he resigns or not, I hope Craig does fight the charge against him. “I am not gay,” he insists. Indeed, he’s fought gay rights at every turn. How perfect if his last public service is taking the anti-gay venom out of the sting?
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group
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