In the United States today, the law's approach to homosexual acts has varied from state to state: In most states, unharmful private sexual acts of any kind between consenting adults were by the late 20th cent. considered to be outside the province of legal authority. The Supreme Court upheld state laws prohibiting homosexual conduct in 1986, and gay activists subsequently focused their efforts on overturning antisodomy laws in those states that retained them; in most, the laws applied also to heterosexuals but were seen as likely to be used chiefly against homosexuals. By 2003, when the Supreme Court reversed its 1986 decision and voided all antisodomy laws, 13 states still had such laws. In recent years, gays and lesbians have struggled to gain rights accorded other Americans as well as public acceptance, but the Judaeo-Christian tradition's condemnation of homosexuality as immoral has made such goals as acceptance of same-sex marriage and adoption by gays elusive. The Clinton administration's much discussed "don't ask, don't tell" policy, announced as a way to allow gays in the military to serve without fear of discharge or other penalty as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation, appears to have done little to change the precarious status of gay soldiers.
The outbreak in the early 1980s of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which initially came to public notice as occurring among male homosexuals in the United States, galvanized the American gay community and brought support also from the wider community for recognition of the menace posed by AIDS, for increased funding for AIDS research, for wider access to information regarding safe sexual practices, and even, to some degree, for legal recognition of same-sex couples. But AIDS, even as it appeared in the nonhomosexual population (e.g., hemophiliacs), also sparked moralistic reactions; some felt, for example, that it represented a form of judgment on homosexuality.
See also gay-rights movement.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.