Fuzzy things are ever so charming. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a flaming hatred for bunnies or kittens. Many folks even take to stroking a full lint trap with tender care and adoration when no one else is looking.
Fuzzy laws, on the other hand, can make even the most mild-tempered folks pull out their hair until their heads are, well, not so fuzzy. Take for example, laws against lewd conduct in California. If you try to nail it down, the most concrete description you can find has something to do with lustful and lascivious behavior in public.
If you’re curious, lascivious pretty much means the same thing as lustful, only the “c” and the “v” make it sound somewhat dirtier and more scandalous. That could very well include anything from full-blown sex to passionate kissing. Hell, I’ve been known to give lustful and lascivious stares every once in a while.
Laws like this are fuzzy for a reason: The more general and obscure the law, the more offenses that can fall under it. So instead of having hundreds of millions of specifically worded laws tailor-made for specific crimes, you can have a few hundred thousand fuzzy laws whose borders can expand and contract to fit specific offenses.
It saves time, money and the fingers of lawyers from nasty paper cuts.
The problem, though, is that when laws get too fuzzy, the powers that be can target specific communities for no good reason. Police departments around the country have routinely used lewd conduct laws to target gay men for having sex in public.
According to the 1992 Christopher Commission report on the Los Angeles Police Dept., the LAPD was much more aggressive in seeking out homosexuals than heterosexuals for lewd conduct and other minor infractions. It seems that if a straight couple were caught whooping it up in the bushes or a parked car, the cops would tell them to get a room. But if that couple averaged more than one penis, they were charged and arrested.
Granted, that report was released more than 10 years ago. In 1997, however, the LAPD again faced charges of discrimination toward gay men over the selective enforcement of lewd conduct laws. It seems the officers played coy, flirted and teased their little hearts out then slapped on the cuffs once the suspects made a move.
Just recently and a little closer to home, the Santa Barbara County Sheriffs’ Office busted 10 men at Rincon Beach, arresting the men once they made advances on the deputy decoy. The Sheriffs’ Office is sketchy on the details. Even though there had been no recent complaints, the Sheriff’s Office decided to camp out on the beach anyway, calling it a proactive measure.
Proactive. Another one of those delightfully fuzzy words.
It’s cute and charming when Brad and Tina decide to roll around in the sand, reenacting “From Here to Eternity” but it’s somehow visually and morally disgusting for two middle-aged men to play the same role. California repealed its sodomy laws in 1976, yet police still seem intent on using fuzzy laws selectively to target queers.
In the defense of police everywhere, this sort of discrimination has happened for years, so programs like the one at Rincon Beach may just be a bit of old-time bigotry worked into the system. It’s hard to say exactly what goes on between a decoy and his target; the cops tend to fuzz things up in police reports and it’s unlikely someone would bear the shame of coming forward after being arrested. It could all just be well-meaning cops with misguided intentions.
But that’s an even greater incentive to change.
If California law enforcement agencies were really concerned with the well-being of gay men at risk from the problems associated with random, anonymous sex, they could try figuring out why gay men feel the need to cruise. I bet it has something to do with the whole belief that public affection between members of the same sex is something that should be hidden behind closed doors.
It’s just a guess. Then again, trying to tackle that issue might be considered a little too proactive.
Steven Ruszczycky is the Daily Nexus Opinion editor.