Has The AFA Changed Its Position On Sodomy Laws?

Yesterday, the American Family Association announced that it was stripping Bryan Fischer of his position as a spokesman for the group. The AFA's move to distance itself from Fischer’s regular barrages of bigotry apparently came in response pressure from its allies in the Republican National Committee, who are preparing to go on a tour of Israel on AFA's dime. (Though the fact that the group is retaining Fischer as a radio personality on its American Family Radio network makes the whole thing somewhat less convincing.)

In what seems to be part of this effort, AFA has sent the Southern Poverty Law Center a letter explicitly denouncing a laundry list of Fischer’s statements, from his blaming the Holocaust on gay people to his insistence that the First Amendment applies only to Christians.

But one statement in the letter stands out:

AFA rejects the policy advocated by Bryan Fischer that homosexual conduct should be illegal.

Really? Is AFA renouncing its support for criminal sodomy laws?

If the AFA has indeed changed its positions on criminal prohibitions on “homosexual conduct,” that would certainly be news! But we somehow wonder if this is yet another example of the group saying one thing to its critics while it continues to say another to its base.

After all, in 2003, when the Supreme Court was preparing to hear arguments in Lawrence v. Texas, the case that struck down state-level prohibitions on sexual relationships between consenting adults of the same sex, the AFA submitted an amicus brief [PDF] passionately defending such laws.

AFA’s attorneys urged the court to consider the “injury caused to the public by same-sex sodomy,” which it implied was more harmful than rape:

In addition to the concrete physical harms that can be caused by private vices, morals laws may prevent moral harm, both to the potential wrongdoer and to the community at large. Just as “[a] physical environment marred by pollution jeopardizes people’s physical health; a social environment abounding in vice threatens their moral wellbeing and integrity.” The injury caused to the public by same-sex sodomy was well understood in the past. Blackstone, having spent several pages immediately prior on rape and abduction, introduces the section on sodomy as dealing with an offense “of a still deeper malignity,” “the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature.” Plainly, this crime is of a different magnitude. [citations removed for clarity]

AFA also warned that sodomy laws protect “the well-being of those engaged in the immoral behavior,” and that though they “may seem severe to those struggling with strong sexual urges” they will be “beneficial in the end”:

Another interest often overlooked in analysis of the issue of public harms occasioned by private immorality is that of the well-being of those engaged in the immoral behavior. The enormous price in terms of illness, disease and death resulting from the conduct…is well documented.

But even aside from the health issue, it has been almost universally recognized that restraint is the sine qua non for social harmony. “Human society requires the direction and restraint of many impulses. Few of those impulses are more powerful or unpredictable than sexual desire.” Laws such as [these] may seem severe to those struggling with strong sexual urges, but the restraint they encourage is beneficial in the end. American jurisprudence long ago rejected Hume’s notion that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.”  [citations removed]

The same year, AFA’s Ed Vitigliano wrote in the American Family Association Journal that a victory in Lawrence would be necessary to preserve “the notion of law and morality inherent in the Judeo-Christian worldview” and praised sodomy laws as deriving “from an older recognition of an orderly natural world, reflecting an intelligent design and, thus, purpose within nature, called natural law.”

Interestingly, the nation’s highest court will be revisiting in Lawrence and Garner v. Texas the same general issues dealt with in a previous Supreme Court case. In Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), a 5-4 high court majority upheld Georgia’s sodomy statute.

That narrowest of decisions, however, pitted two culturally distinct appraisals of morality and law against each other – and in fact provides a clear lesson about what has become known as the culture war.

Sadly, however, since 1986 the more traditional Judeo-Christian views which prevailed in Bowers have been steadily eroding in our culture, in favor of the more postmodern views of the minority in that case. Should the Supreme Court in Lawrence take an opposite view than it did in Bowers, that would mean – quite remarkably – that in the span of only 17 years, the notion of law and morality inherent in the Judeo-Christian worldview had been decreed, by unelected judges, obsolete.

Most sodomy laws have already disappeared anyway. In 1960, all 50 states had such laws on their books – now only 13 states do. However, the repeal of these laws – either by state legislatures or judges – indicates that the statutes represent a worldview that is rapidly being abandoned in favor of postmodern relativism. Sodomy laws derive from an older recognition of an orderly natural world, reflecting an intelligent design and, thus, purpose within nature, called natural law.

We look forward to seeing the AFA issue a full retraction of its previous support for criminalizing “homosexual conduct.” But we aren’t holding our breath.