What's So Bad About Soliciting Sex?

        It’s long been apparent from Mitt Romney’s opportunistic political career that he lacks both courage and conviction (except perhaps for a sincere belief in his own goodness and entitlement to power.)  So his swift and spineless denunciations of Larry Craig are no surprise, although as Harvey stresses in his post below, the comparison of Romney to both Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, who made a principled decision not to engage in gay bashing given a similar opportunity (in a much less tolerant era,) is instructive.  (Covering the story in Slate, John Dickerson notes, “Mitt, You’re no Barry Goldwater.”)

        Still, even in the wake of Romney’s gratuitous description of Craig as “disgusting,” I can’t quite bring myself to feel sorry for the embarrassed, soon to be former Senator, given his entirely voluntary participation in a regime that denies gay people the rights and respect he enjoys as at least a faux heterosexual. There’s some rough justice in his ensnarement in the web of homophobic laws and customs that he helped weave.

        It is, however, hard to ignore the underlying injustice of a legal system that sends police officers into public bathrooms, hoping that some unfortunate gay males will solicit them.  Why should it be illegal for adults to seek out sexual partners in public bathrooms, or other spaces?  Should we start arresting people in singles bars? Should heterosexuals be forbidden to meet and engage in their own coded sexual come-ons in public parks, beaches, or airline terminals?  Should we assign police officers to Amtrak trains in the Northeast corridor to ensure that no strangers begin conversations in Boston that seem likely to lead to sex in New York?

        Defenders of the sting that stung Craig may reply that it’s public sex, not public pickups, that are legitimate public concerns.  Maybe so.  Engaging in public sex, you effectively appropriate a public space, by strongly discouraging other people from using it, (although, personally, I’d rather picnic near a couple having sex than a couple with a boom box.)  But Craig wasn’t arrested for engaging in sex; he was arrested for signifying an interest in engaging in sex.  If laws against that were enacted and indiscriminately enforced, than even Mitt Romney would likely have broken them.

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