Further, although few people are aware of the fact, their personal lives are "interfered" with in most states by laws which specify that the department of health is allowed to put in jail all those who have venereal diseases but will not submit to treatment. Nadine B. Geitz, discussing the legal aspects of the control of venereal diseases, says: "In the control of all serious communicable diseases, legal measures must be employed. The public health laws of most states require reporting of cases of syphilis and gonorrhea by physicians and institutions diagnosing and treating these diseases, and treatment of patients at least so long as they are in an infectious stage. Patients who will not follow orders may by law be isolated or quarantined. In order to locate and bring under treatment sources of infections who are not under medical care and ignorantly or wilfully exposing others to infection, health departments are generally empowered to examine, and treat under quarantine if necessary, any person who, they have reasonable grounds to believe, is infected and likely to infect others."
As is usual, the first complaint against any such regulations is that they deprive the people of their rights. This was especially clear when Magistrate Kross of New York City started the practice of having not only all women, but also all men brought before her on charges of sex offenses, given a test for venereal disease. The defendants fought against this "invasion" of their personal liberties, but Magistrate Kross won out, for the Court of Appeals upheld her. These laws are not restrictions, for they protect society at large. True, they seem to subject an individual to an extra difficulty, but it should be remembered that there is no publicity allowed for the results of these tests; they are entirely for the information of the court, so that the judge can require isolation for treatment of the disease if necessary.
A similar problem is that of sterilization. Sterilization as a voluntary procedure at the request of the patient has not met with considerable opposition, which is offered to compulsory sterilization. The objection here is that of the deprivation of rights of the individual. Apparently, what is not considered by these people who object so strenuously, is the right of society at large to protect itself from those who destroy the happiness of all. Sterilization as a compulsory measure is applied only to the criminal, the feeble-minded and the insane. Its purpose is to prevent these classes from reproducing, and so multiplying individuals with their inheritable defects who will become public burdens. Up to January 1, 1938, a total of 27,869 men and women had been sterilized under the laws of various states. In the State of California alone, in which there had been 12,180 such operations, it is estimated that the cost of caring for the institutionalized feebleminded and insane runs up to more than $2,000,000 a year- which has to be paid in taxes by the rest of the people.
Birth control, apparently, is a strictly personal matter. If a husband and wife want a child, it is their concern; it is also their concern if they don't want a child. There are many reasons for the use of birth-control measures: economic, health, surgical, social, eugenic, and others. The average husband and wife feel that they should be permitted to avoid having a child, if they so desire. But, in some states, it is extremely difficult to get reliable birth control information. Half of the states make no mention of birth control in their laws. The other 24 have various restrictions, generally permitting birth control information to be given only by doctors and for health reasons. The state of North Carolina has taken the step of establishing public birth control clinics, under its state board of health.
A few years ago there was an unusual case in which a couple on relief were given a suspended sentence for some criminal offense, on condition that they should in the future practice birth control. There was much hullaballoo at the time about this "invasion of the home" ; but what is society to do when the relief rolls have a birth rate twice as high as the taxpayers? The answer is not a simple one, although there have been many solutions proposed.
The abnormal modes of sexual expression have long been condemned by law, and been punishable as crimes. A general attitude toward "unnatural" sexual behavior is that any form of conduct is normal if it leads to re lations physiologically such that reproduction could occur.
Any conduct of a sexual nature between members of the same sex is unnatural, and is strictly condemned by law in every state. Modern medical opinion is that it is not so much a criminal act, but a medical problem. The cause of homosexuality is not known, although there have been countless theories advanced to "explain" this quirk of human nature. The cure, too, is still undiscovered. It has been suggested that the way to break a person of the "habit" (if habit it is) of homosexuality is to encourage relations with members of the opposite sex. This is open to objection on many grounds, for it promotes promiscuity. Further, as the great sexologist, Albert Moll, has said, relations between the sexes almost always incur the possibility of a pregnancy; this would mean a new being with the homosexual tendencies, in those instances where this is inheritable..
The law condemns "obscene" reading matter, pictures, etc., and makes the sale or possession of such material a crime. Nobody really knows what obscenity is, and there has never been a good definition. Judges still bandy about phrases: "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent or disgusting" but still nobody knows what they mean. That is why Morris L. Ernst and William Seagle, in "To The Pure" declare: "The scientific work of the Bureau of Social Hygiene ought to call a halt to the prevailing ignorant attacks on literature. In the face of this preliminary scientific data, the vice societies should divert their energies to further search in order to isolate those books which sexually excite. The Bureau has assaulted the old gossipy methods. In the previous utter darkness an unquestioning course was sinful but possible. The light of science on this subject, once lit, may soon outshine the old fires employed by vice hunters to burn up books of science. At any rate, it is along these lines that vice secretaries should divert their energies. In any society based on the scientific principle, any law restraining knowledge should have to prove its way onto the statute books. We must start with a presumption in favor of liberty of thought. When a book is hailed before the bar of justice, its author should not be presumed guilty. It will be time enough to invoke the majesty of the law when actual witnesses whom the book has debauched come weeping into court and cry for punishment on their seducers."
In a country of great freedom, we are nevertheless hemmed in on all sides by rules about the things that we may do, and by the things that we may not do. The law has stepped into the sphere of sex but, really, only for the protection of all concerned. That the law does not always fulfill its purpose is the fault of the lawmakers whose minds, very often, are back in the Middle Ages so far as their knowledge is concerned. Still, it is good to know that our laws in general are quite liberal in the sexual sphere and, save in few instances, are approved by medical science as beneficial.