Copyright (c) 2001 New York University School of Law
New York University Annual Survey of American Law
TRIBUTE: JANUARY 27, 1961: THE BIRTH OF GAYLEGAL EQUALITY ARGUMENTS
58 N.Y.U. Ann. Surv. Am. L. 39
WILLIAM N. ESKRIDGE, JR.*
In 1956, it was not exactly illegal to be a "homosexual" in the United States, but it was a felony to make love to anyone of the same sex, and mere suspicion of homosexuality could cost a citizen her livelihood. Dr. Franklin Kameny, a Harvard-educated (Ph.D.) astronomer, was arrested in August of that year for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. Because the charges were expunged after a probationary period, Kameny's application for a position with the Army Map Service identified the incident as one in which the plea was "not guilty" and the charge was "dismissed." 1 This description of the incident was technically correct under state law, but when the Army learned of the underlying charge, it concluded that Kameny had not been sufficiently forthcoming. The Army dismissed him, and the Civil Service Commission ("CSC") barred him from federal employment for several years. The employment bar also automatically prevented Kameny from obtaining security clearances needed for virtually any private sector job in his field.
That Kameny lost his job over a minor incident suggesting his homosexuality was nothing new in the period after World War II. Nor was the irony of his situation particularly unusual: dismissals from federal or state government service were just as likely to be based upon the failure of a government employee to be completely truthful on a questionnaire as upon the crime itself. 2 What was unusual was Kameny's response: he sued the federal government to get ...
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