Posted by: cochinblogger | July 18, 2009

The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes

The Delhi High Court recently passed a judgment decriminalizing homosexuality, on the grounds that private sexual acts between consenting adults could not be regulated. At issue is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which in effect makes homosexuality illegal. Predictably, the court ruling has set off howls of protest from self-appointed guardians of morality in this conservative country.

What consenting adults do in private is their own business. Homosexuals do what they have to do, heterosexuals do what they have to do, and asexuals ( go their own way. Live and let live. Accept differences.

Homosexuality is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just one example of a whole class of consensual behaviors that are currently illegal in most countries. I agree with Peter McWilliams that “you should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don’t physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other.”

He adds:

Roughly half of the arrests and court cases in the United States each year involve consensual crimes: actions that are against the law, but directly harm no one’s person or property except, possibly, the “criminal’s.”

More than 750,000 people are in jail right now because of something they did, something that did not physically harm the person or property of another. In addition, more than 3,000,000 people are on parole or probation for consensual crimes. Further, more than 4,000,000 people are arrested each year for doing something that hurts no one but, potentially, themselves.

The injustice doesn’t end there, of course. Throwing people in jail is the extreme. If you can throw people in jail for something, you can fire them for the same reason. You can evict them from their apartments. You can deny them credit. You can expel them from schools. You can strip away their civil rights, confiscate their property, and destroy their lives-just because they’re different.

At what point does behavior become so unacceptable that we should tell our government to lock people up? The answer, as explored in this book: We lock people up only when they physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other.

These quotes are from Peter McWilliams’ book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country, which can be read online in its entirety here ( The figures he gives above are from many years ago; they would have greatly increased today.

If the police were freed from going after “moral” criminals, they’d do a better job of hunting down real criminals: murderers, robbers, rapists, terrorists, kidnappers, etc.

However, a line must be drawn somewhere, and I’m strongly in favor of criminalizing an especially foul, unspeakable, depraved, and disgusting act involving inserting a part of the body into an anatomical orifice, and that too in public (sexual acts are at least private). I refer to the vile act of picking one’s nose in public.

It’s an affront to public decency and morality and must be criminalized forthwith. Quite apart from the moral angle, there is the community health angle: nose picking in public is a surefire way to contract (and subsequently pass on) swine flu.

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