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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr David Minto

Minto, David (2018). Perversion by Penumbras: Wolfenden, Griswold, and the Transatlantic Trajectory of Sexual Privacy. American Historical Review 123(4): 1093-1121.

Author(s) from Durham


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.