Attitudes May Change But Some Things Are Still Offensive

During my first year as a lawyer, back in the 1960s, I worked on a divorce case where the wife accused the husband of forcing her to engage in “unnatural acts.” The husband told us he didn’t know what she was talking about, the judge wouldn’t require her to provide specifics, and the partner in charge of the case gave me the assignment of looking into this subject and writing a memorandum.

I did the research but didn’t feel comfortable asking my young secretary to type the memo. The head secretary assigned the task to a middle-aged, married woman who, she assured me, could handle it. I noticed that she giggled as she typed it.

I don’t have my memorandum but do recall one especially interesting word – “agalmatophilia,” which refers to being attracted to statues. Today the research would be easy. Just go to Wikipedia, and there are all the “philias,” from a to z.

I got to thinking about this subject when former congressman Anthony Weiner, husband of Hillary Clinton’s assistant Huma Abedin, got caught “sexting” again, and she announced their separation. I have no idea why this unhappy development should be a political issue in the presidential campaign. It’s not as if the questionable conduct was that of a candidate, such as Gary Hart’s 1988 “Monkey Business,” or a member of a candidate’s staff, such as Dick Morris, who resigned from the 1996 Clinton campaign after being photographed on a hotel balcony in Washington. Still, in today’s political climate, it seems that nothing is off limits.

When it comes to public and legal attitudes towards sexuality, we live in a remarkable era. On the one hand, we have witnessed any number of public scandals involving priests in Boston and elsewhere, and teachers at toney prep schools. Society and the courts rightly condemn such behavior.

On the other hand, most people no longer look askance at those whose sexual orientation may be different from their own. And the courts have certainly participated in this development, applying concepts of equal protection of the law to homosexuals and others.

The book “Flagrant Conduct” tells the story of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which decided that consensual acts between adults of the same sex could not be punished as crimes. The book provides a history lesson, taking the reader as far back as the biblical text (Leviticus 18), which goes into considerable detail on this subject, and tracing legal developments from Colonial America to the present. New Hampshire, by the way, was ahead of the Supreme Court, repealing its anti-sodomy laws in 1975.

In 2015, the Supreme Court’s ruled, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. This decision had little impact in New Hampshire, which legalized such marriages in 2010.

There is now an openness that would have surprised most of us not that long ago. The front page headline of the August 31 Boston Globe, “St. Paul’s sex assault victim speaks out,” represents a recent example. The victim, now 17, has identified herself and says she wants other young people in her situation to know that “they don’t have to be ashamed.”

My sense is that the openness of such victims helps remove a stigma that should not be there in the first place. As for gay marriage, opposition seems to be shrinking as people realize that traditional marriage retains its vitality even as non-traditional unions (including my daughter’s) take their place in our society.

As for Anthony Weiner, he may not have committed a crime, but the word “sleazy” comes to mind. I don’t know the man, but for once I agree with Donald Trump – his wife is better off without him. I wonder if there’s any cure for “textaphilia.”

2017-05-19T20:27:30+00:00By |