Sudden visibility.It's being called the modern-day scarlet letter scarlet letter
“A” for “adultery” sewn on Hester Prynne’s dress. [Am. Lit.: The Scarlet Letter]
See : Adultery
scarlet letter : Sex-offender registration laws--initially passed with the idea of protecting kids from child molesters and women from repeat rapists--are in some places now being used against gay men who have engaged in consensual adult sex. The case of a Massachusetts man, identified in court records only as John Doe John Doe
formerly, any plaintiff; now just anybody. [Am. Pop. Usage: Brewer Dictionary, 329]
See : Everyman , illustrates how the law has gone awry.
On a summer night in 1989 Doe drove to a wooded rest stop known as a cruising area for gay men. He parked and went into the woods, where he struck up a conversation with a man he would later find out was an undercover state trooper. When Doe placed his hand on the officer's groin, he was arrested for indecent assault indecent assault
a sexual attack which does not include rape
indecent assault n (BRIT) → and battery. He pleaded guilty, paid a $62 fine, and was placed on two years' probation.
The incident exacted a high personal price: Following Doe's arrest, his wife of 32 years asked him to move out of their home. After that, however, Doe thought it was all over--until he found out about a statute signed into law in Massachusetts last August.
Under this law Doe must register as a sex offender sex offender n. generic term for all persons convicted of crimes involving sex, including rape, molestation, sexual harassment and pornography production or distribution. with local police. The registry is open to the general public in the small rural community where he lives. Doe, a self-employed carpenter, fears that compliance with the law could mean being ostracized by his neighbors, being shunned by his two adult children and his grandchildren, and losing his friends and customers. He has said he has considered as an alternative to facing the humiliation and disgrace of registering.
"The stakes are just too high to be labeling these people as sex offenders," protests Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders Founded in 1978, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is a non-profit legal rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression. , a Boston-based group that is using Doe's case to challenge the Massachusetts sex-offender registry law as applied to men having consensual sex with other adult men. Bonauto says her office has received about 100 calls from worried men since the law was passed. "In these cases there is no victim, there is no threat to the public, and there is no protection of a vulnerable population," she says. "The whole thing is just way over the line and intent of the law."
And the problem is not limited to Massachusetts. In 1994 Congress passed a law telling states that they could lose up to 10% of federal crime-fighting funds if they failed to establish a sex-offender registry within three years. Since then registry laws have been passed in every state across the country. In some cases the law also requires that a community be notified when a sex offender moves into the area. Says Bonauto: "I suspect there are a lot of other states that have thrown statutes into their versions of this law that will disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men."
The idea for sex-offender registry laws swept the country after a second-grade girl named Megan Kanka was found dead in a parking lot near her home in Hamilton Township There are several places named Hamilton Township in the United States:
v. stran·gled, stran·gling, stran·gles
a. To kill by squeezing the throat so as to choke or suffocate; throttle.
b. to death. A 33-year-old man who lived across the street from the little girl--and who had been twice before convicted of attempting to sexually assault children--was believed to be her killer. The highly emotional case sparked the wave of legislation now commonly known as Megan's Law Megan's Laws are named for Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old girl from New Jersey who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor who, unknown to the victim's family, had been previously convicted for Sex Offenses against children. : legislation aimed at protecting children from child molesters.
But even those responsible for the laws say that using them against gay men seeking sex from consenting adults consenting adults npl → adultos con capacidad de consentir
consenting adults npl → personnes consentantes
consenting adults npl is an abuse of the law's intent. "We wrote Megan's Law--it all started right here in this office," says Rob Tartaglia, a legislative aide to New Jersey state senator Noun 1. state senator - a member of a state senate
senator - a member of a senate Peter Inverso Peter A. Inverso (born December 24, 1938) is an American Republican Party politician, who has been serving in the New Jersey State Senate since 1992, where he represents the 14th Legislative District. , who has been a strong ally of Maureen Kanka, Megan's mother. "And I can tell you that there was never any intent for the law to be misused this way. It doesn't make any sense. I don't see the connection between child molesters and men seeking sex from other men. It's two totally different things."
Nevertheless, in at least two states so far--Massachusetts and California--gay and bisexual men are being branded sex offenders for behavior normally looked upon as a misdemeanor. In Massachusetts a charge of "open and gross lewdness Behavior that is deemed morally impure or unacceptable in a sexual sense; open and public indecency tending to corrupt the morals of the community; gross or wanton indecency in sexual relations.
An important element of lewdness is openness. and lascivious las·civ·i·ous
1. Given to or expressing lust; lecherous.
2. Exciting sexual desires; salacious.
[Middle English, from Late Latin lasc behavior" is a felony under the new law. This is the same charge that has historically been used to prosecute--Bonauto would say persecute--gay and bisexual men for cruising in public places.
The Massachusetts law does distinguish among different types of sex offenses A class of sexual conduct prohibited by the law.
Since the 1970s this area of the law has undergone significant changes and reforms. Although the commission of sex offenses is not new, public awareness and concern regarding sex offenses have grown, resulting in the according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. how serious they are and the likelihood of a repeat offense. Gay or bisexual men cruising or having sex in a park would likely be classified as Level 1, explains James Gilbert, general counsel for the executive office of public safety, which implements the Massachusetts law. Information on men with a Level 1 classification would not be "actively" distributed to the general public under the state's notification provision: For example, their names, addresses, and photographs would not be sent to schools, as might be the case for men classified at levels 2 and 3 on the registry. Gilbert concedes, however, that the information would be available to members of the public upon request.
"I know there is some controversy in the [gay and lesbian] community about this law," says Gilbert, himself a gay man. "But there is also a lot of support for it. This is an important law, and it is needed." Bonauto, however, insists that "these men do not belong on the registry--period," and she is hoping to use Doe's case this spring to get a ruling that would curb the application of the law against people like Doe.
Experience from other states, however, suggests that problems can persist even after the courts have ruled that the laws should not apply to such cases. In California the state supreme court ruled in 1983 that men convicted under laws pertaining to lewd conduct should not have to register as sex offenders; to require them to do so, the court said, is cruel and unusual punishment Such punishment as would amount to torture or barbarity, any cruel and degrading punishment not known to the Common Law, or any fine, penalty, confinement, or treatment that is so disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community. . Despite that ruling, some men charged under California's broad lewd-conduct laws from the '40s, '50s, and '60s are now receiving letters threatening them with arrest if they fail to register.
"These men thought they'd dealt with this problem in the past, only to find their nightmares reopened," says Mathew May, a legal advocate at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center provides a broad array of services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Its clinic and on-site pharmacy offers free and low-cost health, mental health, HIV/AIDS medical care and HIV/STD testing and prevention. . The explanation offered by police is that old records often use vague language like "soliciting" that makes it impossible to know whether the offense was something that would even still be illegal today, much less worthy of prosecution under Megan's Law.
But police are not always helpful about correcting the situation, says Jon Davidson, supervising attorney at the Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. office of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay and lesbian civil rights group. "There have been several cases I know of where it was clear that the person shouldn't be registered as a sex offender, and we had a very hard time getting that person's name removed from the registry," he says. "There is the general mentality among the police that if someone's committed a sex crime, they should register, no matter what."
And May, who says he has talked to more than a dozen gay and bisexual men about the issue during the past month alone, worries that there is some duplicity DUPLICITY, pleading. Duplicity of pleading consists in multiplicity of distinct matter to one and the same thing, whereunto several answers are required. Duplicity may occur in one and the same pleading. on the part of police who pursue these cases. "I suspect that some people's names are randomly being generated from lewd-conduct lists at local police stations," he says. "It's an easy way for local police and local politicians to posture that they're doing something against crime. But it is blatant irresponsibility to spew out these people's names and identities."
Still, that's what happens "when laws crop up out of hysteria," complains Ed Martone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), nonpartisan organization devoted to the preservation and extension of the basic rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution. of New Jersey, a group that is challenging Megan's Law in a federal court case expected to wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Martone cites a case in which a local prosecutor suggested applying Megan's Law to an 11-year-old boy caught playing doctor in the bathtub with his 6-year-old sister.
If Megan's Law were to be applied "in an equally crazy and irrational manner" against gay men, says Martone, it could be a legal nightmare in state after state around the country. "First, just think of the indiscriminate ways it could be applied in the 18 or so states where there are still sodomy laws," he points out. "And it is well-known that police officers everywhere have what they commonly call `queer patrols' at rest stops. We've already seen some states manipulate Megan's Law there. Before you know it, this could be a problem everywhere."