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Aaron Belkin Headshot

He Did Nothing Wrong

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Larry Craig is out the door, and he doesn't have many fans left. I'm
certainly not one of them. As has been widely reported, Craig is the
proud recipient of a zero -- ZERO! -- from the Human Rights Campaign for
his anti-gay voting record. As HRC concluded, it's pretty hard to find
any issue on which Craig has taken a stand for justice, fairness, or
decency.

I'm also horrified by the mobius-strip like way in which Craig's legacy
turns in on itself: Anti-gay lawmakers like Craig work so hard to inflame
homophobia that it becomes all the more difficult for closeted individuals
like Craig to live open lives, which in turn enables anti-gay leaders to
foment fear. In a sense, Craig has done everything wrong. I'm glad to
see him leave.

That said, Craig's story saddens me at so many levels. As I argue in an
op-ed in the Washington Post
today, Craig's career has been destroyed as a
result of the most trivial of infractions. My partner, upon reading
Craig's arrest report, shouted, "But he's done nothing wrong!" And indeed
he hasn't. This is the extent of his crime:

Craig walked into a public restroom and fidgeted with his fingers for two
minutes as he stood outside an occupied stall. Several times, he peered
through a crack in the door. Then, he entered an empty stall, sat down,
tapped his foot, and touched the shoe of the person in the next stall with
his own. Finally, he swiped his hand under the stall divider three times.

That's the totality of his crime.

Craig probably was looking for sex, but there is a big difference between
seeking sex and having public sex. What if, for example, Craig planned to
ask the occupant of the next stall to follow him to a private hotel room?
What if he simply enjoyed the chase and planned to stop short of sexual
conduct? It's sickening that lawmakers who support torture eagerly
condemn Craig for a toe tap.

Society, of course, has the right to enforce standards of public decorum.
But when we punish people for a wink and a nod, we let our anxieties about
sex override the best traditions of what it means to live in a free
society.

Let's be frank: Craig is being punished because he is gay, not just
because he was arrested or because he has a vexed relationship with the
truth. A student of one of my colleagues, Professor Tobias Wolff, did a
study showing that gay men in a major metropolitan area are arrested on
lewd conduct charges for public behaviors which heterosexuals engage in
commonly. According to Wolff, "The double-standard -- including the
selective treatment of different public places as implicitly acceptable or
unacceptable for exploring assignations, corresponding closely to whether
the places are coded straight or coded gay -- is stark."

Craig's personal anguish must be nothing short of extreme. If Craig were
being punished for his destructive voting record and the numerous ways in
which he has used his authority to crush people who needed help, that
would be one thing. But to see him destroyed for being gay brings no
comfort at all.