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Aaron Belkin

Aaron Belkin

Posted: September 1, 2007 12:29 PM

He Did Nothing Wrong

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.