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Perversion by penumbras : Wolfenden, Griswold, and the transatlantic trajectory of sexual privacy.

Minto, David (2018) 'Perversion by penumbras : Wolfenden, Griswold, and the transatlantic trajectory of sexual privacy.', American historical review., 123 (4). pp. 1093-1121.


This article provides a queer, transnational account of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1965 articulation, in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), of a constitutional right to privacy. The right in question trumped a Connecticut statute prohibiting contraceptive use even by married couples. But historians emphasizing its emergence from tort privacy and criminal procedure law have neglected an alternative source of its articulation beyond obvious jurisdictional and sexual borders: Britain’s 1957 Wolfenden Report on homosexual offenses and prostitution. The government-commissioned report famously recommended the decriminalization of gay sex on the basis of “a realm of private morality and immorality which is . . . not the law’s business.” In doing so, it not only captured the attention of U.S. homophiles and advocates, who had particular interests in overturning state sodomy laws, but also inspired transatlantic reportage and legal debate that helped to make a sexual privacy right conceptually legible and politically realizable. Elaborating the connection between Wolfenden and Griswold, this article probes the resonance between the Supreme Court’s attention to “penumbras” and the insights of queer history.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 04 October 2020.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in American historical review following peer review. The version of record Minto, David (2018). Perversion by Penumbras: Wolfenden, Griswold, and the Transatlantic Trajectory of Sexual Privacy. American Historical Review 123(4): 1093-1121 is available online at: xxxxxxx
Date accepted:13 June 2018
Date deposited:14 June 2018
Date of first online publication:04 October 2018
Date first made open access:04 October 2020

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