In California, Anti-LGBT Laws Could be Headed for the History Books
April 7, 2010
The following post comes from Darrin Hurwitz, HRC Assistant General Counsel For years, California has provided broad protections to its LGBT residents, as the nation’s most populous state was at the forefront in enacting laws prohibiting employment and housing discrimination, addressing hate crimes and providing domestic partnership benefits. But in a different time, the state’s laws served only to stigmatize rather than shield LGBT people. A 1950 law attempting to address sex crimes classified gays and lesbians as “sexual deviants” and required state health officials to conduct research on the causes and cures of homosexuality. Amazingly, for decades this archaic law has remained on the books, though unenforced, as Section 8050 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. But now, California legislators have launched efforts to repeal the law. Yesterday, the bill moved out of an Assembly committee by a 4-0 vote and will soon be considered by the full legislature. The sponsor of the repeal bill, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), noted that in 1950 homosexuality was considered a mental disorder and therefore ended up lumped in as a deviant act to study and cure, even though the particular sex crime that served as the law’s impetus had not been committed by a gay person. For Lowenthal, while the law can be understood in a historical context, its continued validity is, of course, unacceptable:
“That code is like the old race restrictions on property deeds. The fact that it came more from ignorance than hate might excuse its enactment, but it doesn't relieve us of the duty of blotting it out.”
The existence of such a law, unnoticed by many, is a sharp reminder of where attitudes towards LGBT rights used to be and, notably, of the progress that has been made since then. The American Psychiatric Association de-listed homosexuality as a disorder in 1973. And in the past few decades Californians have embraced significant legislative protections for LGBT people, with the notable exception of marriage rights. Unfortunately, voter passage of Prop. 8 in 2008 was an indication that laws that stigmatize LGBT people are not just a relic of the 1950s. But Prop. 8 will likely one day also be a relic that is repealed. A Los Angeles Times/USC poll released yesterday found that 52 percent of registered voters support same-sex marriage in California, with 40 percent opposed. These numbers echo other recent polls that show growing support for marriage equality. Demographic shifts reveal broad acceptance of same-sex marriage among the younger generation, as registered voters under 30 support marriage equality by a 3 to 1 margin. A majority of those over 64 remain opposed. It is therefore not difficult to see where public opinion is headed. As the Times notes:
“That age division, also seen in every other poll on the issue, suggests that over time, the state’s electorate probably will become even more supportive of same-sex marriage…”
While challenges certainly remain, eventually both the 1950 sex crimes law and the 2008 anti-marriage initiative will likely be ones for the history books in California.