Hate Crimes, Pastors, and the Supreme Court: Is Re-Criminalization of Homosexuality A Possibility in the United States?

In light of increasing apprehension towards growing LGBT inclusion in the U.S., some opponents suggest a harsh remedy: re-criminalization of homosexuality. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s recent acceptance of gay-marriage cases and the President’s statements in support may dictate otherwise.

Naked and bleeding, a woman crawls to her neighbor’s residence. The word “DYKE” is carved into her chest and arms.  And as the smoke from the fire started in her home fills the neighborhood, she screams for help.1  This did not happen in one of the seven countries where consensual same sex acts are punishable by death.2  This happened here, in the United States.

Earlier that morning, three masked men entered the home of the unnamed woman.  They “bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties, cut her all over her body and carved homophobic slurs into her skin before dumping gasoline on her floor and lighting it with a match.”   The victim, an openly gay lesbian, is certain that this attack was motivated by homophobia.3  This is just one of the many anti-LGBT incidents detailed by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).4   Each month, NCAVP releases detailed reports of violence impacting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) communities from various cities in the U.S.5  The NCAVP focuses primarily on the incidents that are reported in the media, therefore an informed reader may assume that the 152 incidents throughout 2012 are only a glimpse of the thousands of unreported incidents.6

Although the U.S. has decriminalized specific acts pertaining to LGBT communities, there is a growing domestic sentiment that the U.S. is going in the “wrong direction.”

These incidents are continuous occurrences despite recent pro-LGBT legislation.7  Even influential individuals such as Pastor Charles L. Worley, Pastor Ron Baity, and Rabbi Daniel Lapin suggest that gays should be put to death, quarantined or criminalized for their sexuality.8, 9, 10   This anti-LGBT violent rhetoric raises the question: if given the opportunity, would U.S. citizens opt to re-criminalize homosexuality and conform to the overall anti-LGBT ideologies of over eighty countries?11

Iran, Maurtania, Saudia Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, twelve parts of Nigeria, and the southern parts of Somalia all possess penal codes that make consensual same-sex acts punishable by death.12  While there are lesser punishments if an individual repents, or is the recipient of the sexual act, these penalties serve as a harsh reminder that there is a zero-tolerance policy for LGBT communities in certain parts of the world.13  Although the U.S. has decriminalized specific acts pertaining to LGBT communities, there is a growing domestic sentiment that the U.S. is going in the “wrong direction.”  Currently, thirty states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.14  Additionally, many feel that it is their duty to speak out against homosexuality as a way to show that they will not compromise their beliefs for the current trend of “acceptance.”15  With these growing sentiments, the United States may soon have to affirmatively pinpoint what separates it from the eighty countries who have yet to de-criminalize homosexuality.

While the United States’ response to the growing request for same-sex civil rights may not be as harsh as international reactions, its lack of protections still denies access to essential resources and a secure future with one’s partner.
A closer look at the laws in the United States reveals that there are only five states that allow civil unions and only three that allow domestic partnerships.16  The lack of protection for individuals living in the other forty two states is akin to criminalization in the other countries because it mirrors the consequences of a criminal sanction: some form of an individual’s identity is taken away.  In these cases, the individuals who are not afforded the right to marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are being penalized for who they are.  While the United States’ response to the growing request for same-sex civil rights may not be as harsh as international reactions, its lack of protections still denies access to essential resources and a secure future with one’s partner.

Thankfully, the United States may soon distinguish itself from these other countries due to the United State Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex2 marriage.17  Their decision will either bolster the growing resentment towards LGBT inclusive statutes or shed a positive light on why America, unlike the eighty countries which criminalize the “sexually deviant,” is a country which has embraced inclusion, and equality for all of its citizens despite sexual orientation.  If the latter, the Court will be following the footsteps of our very notable 44th President.

As President Obama bravely stated in his Second Inaugural Address, “our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”18 Hopefully, the President’s open mind allows others to see that re-criminalization of homosexuality, nationally or internationally, is in fact, counter to the U.S.’s continuous progression as well as detrimental to everyone’s future.


[1]Woman Reports Brutal Antigay Attack, Fire in Nebraska, Advocate, http://www.advocate.com/crime/2012/07/23/woman-reports-brutal-antigay-attack-fire-nebraska (last visited Feb 4, 2013).

[2] State Sponsored Homophobia., ILGA Report, http://ilga.org/historic/Statehomophobia/ILGA_State_Sponsored_Homophobia_2009.pdf (last visited Feb. 4, 2013).

[3] Advocate, supra note 1.

[4] 2012 Reports of Violence Affecting the LGBTQH Communities in the Media in the United States, Anti-Violence Project,. http://www.avp.org/resources/avp-resources/183.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7]  Fast Facts: Same Sex Marriage., CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/31/us/ff-same-sex-marriage  (last visited Feb. 18, 2013).

[8] Charles L. Worley, North Carolina Pastor: Put Gays And Lesbians in Electrified Pen to Kill Them Off, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/21/north-carolina- pastor-gay-rant-starvation_n_1533463.html.  (During a sermon at Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C , Pastor Worley insisted that the U.S., “build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there. Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out…do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”)

[9] Family Research Council’s Award to Antigay Pastor Ron Baity Rewards Hate Speech, The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/15/family-research-council-s-award-to-anti-gay-pastor-ron-baity-rewards-hate-speech.html.  (During a Sunday sermon Pastor Baity stated the following: “’I can’t believe the perverseness of two men or two women wanting to slobber over each other … that’s worse than sick. I don’t even think maggots would do that.’ He is on record longing for the days when “we had laws that would prosecute [the homosexual] lifestyle.’”)

[10] Daniel Lapin Thinks Gays Should have been Quarantined During AIDS Crisis, Daily Kos, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/20/1047377/-Daniel-Lapin-thinks-gays-should-have-been-quarantined-during-AIDS-crisis (last visited Feb. 4, 2013). (During an interview on WallBuilders Live, a conservative online talk-show, Rabbi Daniel Lapin stated, “You’ll remember when the AIDS epidemic began, if that was anything other than a homosexual-related disease, which it obviously was, particularly at the outset, any public health organization that did not impose quarantine would have literally been tried before a court, it’s insane.”)

[11] ILGA Report, supra note 2.

[12]  Id.

[13] Id.

[14] CNN, supra note 10.

[15] Chris Christie on Gay Marriage: No Compromise, Politico, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/73126.html#ixzz1nYdXKr00 (last visited Feb. 18, 2008).

[16] CNN, supra note 10.

[17] U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Prop. 8, Defense Of Marriage Cases In March. CBS San Francisco,  http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/01/07/u-s-supreme-court-to-hear-prop-8-defense-of-marriage-cases-in-march/ (last visited Feb. 18. 2013).

[18] Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013.