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Posted by on Aug 15, 2009 in Society | 5 comments

Judge Says Gay Claims Not Defamatory

That in the libel case by Howard K. Stern, Anna Nicole Smith‘s former lawyer, against Rita Crosby. Crosby claimed in a book that Stern is gay. The judge ruled that the gay sex claims could not be libelous because homosexuality is no longer viewed as contemptible:

Stern claimed the book, which was published six months after Smith’s death, contained 19 libelous statements, including that he had engaged in oral sex at a Los Angeles party with Larry Birkhead, the father of Smith’s child, and that Smith had later called Stern gay.

[U.S. District Judge Denny] Chin dismissed Stern’s claims that statements implying he was homosexual were defamatory, although he acknowledged that gays and lesbians still suffered prejudice.

“I respectfully disagree that the existence of this continued prejudice leads to the conclusion that there is a widespread view of gays and lesbians as contemptible and disgraceful,” the judge said.

Via Emily Bazelon in the Slate Gabfest. Bazelon also points to a Slate piece by Gabriel Arana from last February:

[G]ay libel suits abound. In December, Joseph Farah, founder of the conservative news site WorldNetDaily, threatened a libel suit against Wikipedia, which had listed him as “an Evangelical Christian American journalist and noted homosexual.” And in 2003, a Los Angeles judge awarded Tom Cruise $10 million in a gay libel suit against a porn star who claimed he and Cruise had been lovers. When he sued, Tom Cruise said that he had nothing against gay people. But these cases inevitably send the message that it’s shameful to be gay.

Wikipedia fixed Farah’s entry and while Tom Cruise won in 2003, in 2005 he declined to sue over the notorious Trapped in the Closet South Park episode.

Arana walks us through a history of how shifting attitudes stopped courts from recognizing certain labels — that a person “had negro blood” in the 1840s or was a Communist during the Red Scare and the McCarthy era — as defamatory:

That’s where we should be in the timeline of gay rights. Gay marriages or partnerships are recognized in 11 states. President Obama recently set up a task force to look at dismantling “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down laws criminalizing sodomy, which often served as a basis for gay libel suits (because accusing someone of participating in criminal activity is one standard for defamation). Roughly three-fourths of Americans think that gays should be protected against employment discrimination and about half think gays should be able to enter into civil unions and adopt children. The numbers reflect a dramatic shift in attitude over the last decade, and young people support gay rights at especially high rates. As Christopher Hayes, an editor for The Nation, commented, “Every time an ambulance passes it is either someone who opposes gay rights dying or someone who supports them being born.”

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