January 13, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay sex remains a crime under military law

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN, said his group’s top priority this year is to secure the certification by President Obama and military leaders for completing repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Much of the nation was riveted over the drama surrounding the congressional vote last month to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring gays from serving openly in the military.

But in a little-noticed development, Capitol Hill observers say Congress is in no mood to take a follow-up action recommended by Pentagon officials — the repeal of a longstanding military law that classifies consensual sodomy among both gay and straight service members as a crime.

Gay rights attorneys and experts in military law say the sodomy law provision known as Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice has been rarely enforced in recent years in cases where sexual activity has been consensual and “fraternization” between officers and lower ranking members has not be a factor.

And the experts say a 2004 decision known as U.S. v. Marcum by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services placed limits on the enforcement of Article 125 based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision one year earlier that declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional.

Yet because the military court did not overturn Article 125, its characterization of gay sex as criminal acts punishable by court martial will remain on the books until Congress repeals the statute, leaving in place what some activists say is an unfair stigma associated with gays and lesbians in the military.

Gay rights attorneys have said the Supreme Court could overturn the military sodomy law by affirming that the Lawrence v. Texas decision fully covers the military. But it could take years before a new military case reaches the high court.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has led efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said his group’s top priority this year is to secure the certification by President Obama and military leaders for completing repeal.

The repeal law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December doesn’t allow full repeal to take effect until the president, the Secretary of Defense and chair of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff determine troops and commanders are fully prepared for the change.

“So I would say no, that our top priority for this Congress is not the repeal of Article 125,” Sarvis told the Blade. “Do I think it should be repealed? Yes. Has SLDN been working over the last several years for repeal? Yes.”

Among those agreeing with Sarvis’ assessment is gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“I’m skeptical and frankly at this point I don’t think it’s a good idea to press ahead with that one,” Frank said Tuesday, noting that gay rights opponents would likely use a debate on sodomy repeal in the military to push “hidden agendas.”

Sarvis summarized the views of other LGBT advocates when he said the Republican-controlled House would almost certainly refuse to even consider a bill to repeal Article 125. He said the need for pushing other LGBT-related issues in the military and other areas outweighs expending resources on Article 125.

Although Article 125 applies to gays and straights alike, gay rights advocates have said military authorities used it to target gay and lesbian service members in the past, especially in the years prior to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If it remains on the books, some wonder whether a future president less supportive of LGBT rights might reinstate its full enforcement.

Longtime D.C. gay rights leader Frank Kameny, who assisted gay service members in the 1970s and 1980s, long before SLDN and other LGBT rights groups existed, said military investigators waged what he and other activists called “witch hunts” to identify and discharge gays on grounds that they violated Article 125.

Under Article 125, “any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense,” the article states.

Under the 2008 version of the military’s official manual for courts martial, unnatural carnal copulation under Article 125 is defined as a person taking into his or her “mouth or anus the sexual organ of another person or of an animal…or to have carnal copulation in any opening of the body, except the sexual parts, with another person.”

Sarvis and Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an arm of the University of Southern California that studies issues related to gays in the military, each said they know of almost no cases in recent times where service members, gay or straight, have been prosecuted under Article 125 for engaging in consensual sex in private.

The two noted that nearly all Article 125 prosecutions in recent years have involved additional infractions and violations, such as allegations of rape or sexual harassment or of sexual activity between an officer and a lower-ranking enlisted person.

The latter category of cases, known as fraternization, is considered a strong breach of military rules because sexual relations between an officer and a subordinate are believed to harm the system of order and discipline deemed important in the military.

Bridget Wilson, a San Diego attorney in private practice who has represented gay and lesbian service members for more than 20 years, said she agrees with Sarvis and Belkin’s assessment about the infrequency of Article 125 enforcement in recent years for consensual sex.

But Wilson said the pressure that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has placed on gay and lesbian service members to conceal their sexual orientation during the 17 years it has been in effect has led to many cases where service members “fabricate” a non-consenting allegation to protect themselves from being thrown out of the service.

If a service member ensnared in an investigation over alleged acts of sodomy admitted to having consented to such acts, Wilson said, it was equivalent to an admission to being gay and grounds for an automatic discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“What I do see is false accusations of assaults,” she said in describing some cases faced by her clients. “You get a lot of, ‘I was so drunk last night I don’t remember a thing’ after he gets busted for having sex with another man.”

According to Wilson, some military prosecutors have interpreted impairment on the part of a service member due to alcohol consumption as a sign that the service member could not give true “consent” to a sexual act.

“So the problem with ‘I was so drunk that I don’t remember a thing’ is it could convert from [consensual] sodomy into forced sodomy with very serious consequences in the criminal courts,” she said.

With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Wilson said she is hopeful that the perceived need by frightened service members to fabricate a non-consenting sex allegation to avoid being discharged from the service will become a thing of the past.

She said military authorities notoriously handled similar cases with straight couples engaging in alleged sodomy differently because there is no “straight” version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“They might find themselves punished by losing a stripe or losing leave time—that sort of thing,” Wilson said. “For my same-sex clients, before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ goes away, they’re out. They’re gone. And they’re probably facing administrative separation with an other-than-honorable discharge.”

In its widely publicized Nov. 30 report, the Pentagon’s Joint Service’s Committee consisting of top military leaders — which recommended the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — also called on Congress to repeal Article 125.

The committee report points to both the U.S. v. Marcum decision, which limits the enforcement of Article 125, and the Lawrence v. Texas ruling that declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional as they pertain to consenting adults in the privacy of the home.

“In light of these decisions, we recommend that Article 125 be repealed or amended to the extent it prohibits consensual sodomy between adults, regardless of sexual orientation,” the report says.

“The other prohibitions considered punishable under Article 125, including forcible sodomy, sodomy with minors and sodomy that is demonstrated to be ‘service discrediting’ (i.e., in public or between a superior and subordinate), should remain on the books,” the report says.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC favors a prompt repeal by Congress of Article 125. He said the group also disagrees with the military court decision upholding Article 125 under some circumstances and feels the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision, which overturned state sodomy laws, should also cover the military in its entirety.

“HRC expects that post-DADT repeal, Article 125 would only be used in circumstances involving non-consensual acts, so there should be no negative impact on gay and lesbian service members,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Former Army Lt. Dan Choi, who emerged as one of the nation’s most visible opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after being discharged under the statute, said he recognizes that Congress is unlikely to repeal Article 125 any time soon. But he criticized SLDN and other LGBT groups for not being more aggressive in pushing for its repeal at the present time.

“Leaders [should] do what is important and difficult and lead,” he said.

Bryan Thomas, a spokesperson for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Senate Democratic leaders were reviewing the Pentagon report’s call for Congress to repeal Article 125. He said a Senate repeal measure would most likely be introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Bill, but he had no further details by press time on whether or when such a measure would be introduced.

“We expect the administration to submit a legislative proposal for repeal or revision of Article 125 of the UCMJ, and such a proposal would certainly be carefully considered by the committee,” Thomas said.

Spokespersons for Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Republican leaders in the Senate could not be immediately reached.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

4 Comments
  • Revision to permit consenting adults to engage in sodomy is more likely to be acceptable than repeal of all article 125 especially the part with minors and animals. This will be used as a weapon against gay people by christian conservatives especially since they cannot get gay people thrown out anymore once repeal is fully instituted of DADT.

    This needs to be taken care of but I agree the GOP will not support it to please its base. But it’s possible enough will support a revision to allow consenting adults to do things in private leaving the other provision intact. Let’s be realistic.

  • Does it really matter what a person does with consenting adults?
    I have always wondered and been curious about having sex with another man, is it wrong for me to ask a man out and to go down on him, I think about it everyday does that make me Gay, should I just come out of the closet, the list of men is long, and I think about it all of the time, my biggest fear is catching something, bi and waiting for mr. big

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.
Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin