Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

14 Feb 2004, 16:01 p.m.

Sex Taboos

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2004 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Two bits of news in the Bay Area that connect through the sexual taboos and laws at the heart of each issue.

First, a thrice-convicted sex offender, Cary Verse, has gone through a bunch of therapy, is taking regular chemical injections to retain his status as castrated, wears monitoring equipment at all times, and has been deemed fit for a one-year conditional release from the hospital. He tried living in a motel in Marin but was forced to leave; somehow it was chosen for him to try to live in Oakland, and various city officials want to find some legal way to make him move. He is a public hazard and has been unfairly dumped there, they say.

So: when the hospital, overseen by a government agency, pronounces Verse "fit for release," Oakland officials do not believe that. And they say they have enough sex offenders, and that Verse's last crime was committed in Contra Costa County and thus he should be released there.

Well, the way to make sure a person is never released in your neighborhood is to make sure he gets sentenced to life in a jail or treatment facility, not to play hot-potato. Or you could space out schools and playgrounds so that there is no space in the city that is more than half a mile (or whatever the required distance is) from a school or playground, and thus no space where it is legal for him to live. Or you could somehow decree that your city does not recognize any fit-for-release certificate, no matter who authorizes it.

That last one seems the most fitting for this situation. These officials are basically saying that they don't trust that certification, and are not willing to make the risk tradeoffs that respecting Verse's liberty as a citizen would entail.

The other issue: Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, directed his employees to issue marriage licenses to same-sex and heterosexual couples alike, so even as I write, huge lines of couples wait in line at City Hall and opponents of the mayor's move make speeches and legal motions.

I am incredibly sentimental. I cry when I see that "imagine a world without smoking" ad with the bubbles. I cry at really good compliments. And I cry when I think about or see people getting married. So of course even thinking about these couples getting married after years of impossibility brings me to tears.

But Gavin Newsom overreached his legal bounds as mayor. I don't think it'll hold up in the courts. California voters passed the marriage definition referendum (screw full faith and credit! they shouted), and

Vikram Amar, a constitutional law professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, said the two groups have a good chance of eventually winning an injunction. Newsom, he said, is taking a novel legal approach by insisting that he is merely interpreting the state Constitution's right to equal protection in ordering the city to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

He said Newsom may lose that fight because the Constitution also stipulates that a state agency must follow a law that it disagrees with until a court has ruled on the issue. The same argument probably applies to local governments, Amar said.

Newsom assumed a power I don't think he has, and I am uncomfortable with that.

On both of these issues I'm reserving further judgment. There are pertinent facts I don't know. But I want for us to pass and follow fair laws, and sympathetic people in both these situations (more Mayor Brown than Mayor Newsom) may be looking for loopholes in the law instead.