Bedroom police state

Published Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let us consider a stipulation. It is that you don't care that I oppose a blanket restriction against gays being adoptive or foster parents on account of their sexual activity and that I don't care that you disagree.

We're not going to get anywhere arguing about it. You have your scripture in Romans, and I have my more modern and open-minded view, and that's just the way it goes.

What I wish to discuss instead is the impracticality of trying to impose judgments about the private sexual behavior of others onto statutory law as the Christian evangelical group called the Family Council will seek with an initiated act likely to be on the general election ballot in November 2008.

At present, the attorney general has suggested a few revisions in the Family Council's draft, and the council's lawyers will likely accept them. Then they'll get their signatures. Then we'll vote. Then, if it passes, we'll have federal court litigation about vagueness and ambiguity.

Jerry Cox, the ever-pleasant and patient executive director of the Family Council, promptly returned my call the other day and politely and honestly, I think answered all my questions.

The measure will propose banning by statute any and all adoptions or foster parenting not only by gay couples, but also by all cohabiting couples engaged in a sexual relationship. That would sideswipe heterosexual shacker-uppers.

Cox readily admitted that the impetus was to stop gays to "blunt the radical homosexual agenda," is what he said. He acknowledged that heterosexuals were thought about as afterthoughts mainly for the purpose of impressing a judge who might frown on the constitutional vulnerability of singling out gays. But he says it turns out that research has shown that heterosexual cohabitants provide bad environments for kids, too.

Nothing is proposed to change the authority now existing for single persons regardless of their sexual activity to adopt children or be guardians or hold custody. Cox wouldn't agree with me that he and his people were "less offended by that." He said it was a matter of setting priorities and keeping proposals simple and understandable.

The impracticalities have to do with our inability, thank goodness, to get inside people's bedrooms.

Even if we possess the right to disapprove, how are we going to know? Cohabitation means sharing a legal address and having sex. Cox acknowledged that, yes, it's possible, he supposes, that a couple, whether gay or straight, could maintain separate legal addresses, while, in fact, gathering between the sheets every night.

Who's going to monitor that? And even if you could get in the bedroom, would you really want to go in under the sheets to verify that something beyond mere sleeping was going on?

Cox said his group has no interest in stopping, for example, two cohabiting elderly sisters from being adoptive or foster parents. Thus the proposed act's explicit reference to "sexual" cohabitation.

But let's say two people, whether same-sex or opposite, are living together romantically, but find themselves ... well, past the point of active sexual interest. They love each other, but they don't mess around anymore. May two such sexually inactive cohabiting gays or straights adopt or be foster parents? How are we going to verify their sexual inactivity? Why would it be any of our dadgummed business?

And when does gayness begin, exactly? What happens if a prospective and otherwise eligible foster parent pats his foot in a public rest room stall?

Cox counters that we already seek to impose all manner of challenging restrictions. He likes to cite the new law banning foster parenting by a smoker.

One difference is that second-hand smoke poses a verifiable health risk not posed by a child's sleeping in one bedroom while two people of the same or opposite gender make love in another.

The other is that it's harder for a closet to contain smoke than some other things.

Brummett is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail address is; his telephone number is (501) 374-0699.

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