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September 3, 2007

What Crime Did Larry Craig Commit?


I don’t suppose it’s worth asking this question now that Larry Craig has announced his resignation from the U.S. Senate, but I’m wondering exactly when it became illegal to ask someone for sexual favors in a public place.


Yes, soliciting sex in a bathroom – where people tend to feel most vulnerable and in need of privacy – is seedy and shameful, but I’m still not sure that it’s actually illegal.


By now, most of us are familiar with the general direction things were headed in – man solicits sex from man in neighboring stall, the neighbor says yes and the two have sex. If the deed is done in the bathroom stall, I think you’ve got a case for disorderly conduct. If the two go to an airport hotel room, you have consensual sex.


Craig, as we all know, was arrested at the first stage, when he was asking for sex.


To put this in proper context, imagine if the police ran a similar sting in a nightclub, trying to bust people for going out the back door and behind the garbage cans. In Craig’s case, they arrested him for merely asking.


You don’t need to buy Craig’s story about a wide stance, or picking up paper. I don’t know anyone who does. But, criminal cases are built on evidence and not assumptions. In Craig’s case, there is only the assumption that what would have otherwise been consensual sex would have occurred in a public place.


Most of us know why Craig was arrested when he was. From time to time, you run across newspaper reports of police stings in other public places rumored to be regular hangouts for homosexuals looking for somewhere to hook up. These have occurred in parks, rest stops and public bathrooms (hence, Larry Craig’s predicament).


This is, I think, a very predictable result of our double-sided approach to the issue of homosexuality. Most people, when you talk to them, say that they have no problem with what two consenting adults do behind closed doors. Every time some related issue comes up, however, it seems like the prevailing mood is that when behind closed doors, those two consenting adults should be fitting themselves into custom-built closets. You’re free to be who you are, just as long as you don’t do it in public.


Understanding why someone does something does not endorse it, and only means that you can understand the series of events that led to something that you might ultimately think is wrong. Obviously, asking someone in a bathroom stall for sex is wrong. These kinds of activities don’t just violate the law, but when they become apparent, they cause people who want to use a public place for its intended purpose to avoid it. That makes it not just wrong and illegal, but also unfair to everyone else.


Most people, when given the option to either do something that is illegal or do something socially acceptable, will err on the side of acceptability. This could be why you don’t hear of groups of swinging singles using public parks for clandestine hook-ups with members of the opposite sex.


While the topic is raised, the cops in Minneapolis busted a U.S. senator in a sting, which I suppose is a very big deal. Whether he actually broke a law is something that we’ll probably never know because Craig plead guilty (his guilty plea is a constant reminder that truth is not always the product of our criminal justice system).


But, it also raises a couple of questions – how much did the sting cost the department, and can anyone think of a better use of money and police manpower? If the answer to the last one is yes, then perhaps it means that the solution doesn’t rest with the cops and courts, but with society at large.


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