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California Supreme Court to rule on disclosure of sexual history

California is getting ready to rule on a case that may set a scary precedent for rummaging through your sexual history:

(LA Times) The California Supreme Court, considering the case of a woman who said her former husband gave her HIV, appeared Tuesday to favor holding people responsible for failing to disclose previous, unprotected sexual contact with an infected partner.

Under California law, a person can be held liable for monetary damages for failing to disclose that he or she has a sexually transmitted disease. At issue before the court is whether a person should also be responsible for informing a partner when they have reason to suspect they contracted a sexual disease but have not received a diagnosis.

“Reason to suspect”? Well, most sexually transmitted diseases don’t give a person — especially a male — much of an indication that they’re partying in your privates. Any sort of sexual contact would give you a greater “reason to suspect” you’ve possibly contracted an STD than if you were a virgin, right? And how does that “reason to suspect” play out if, say, your partners are gay rather than straight, poor rather than rich, black rather than white? Unless you’ve got open sores and it hurts when you pee, I’ve got reason to suspect that this “reason to suspect” is more a license for a witch hunt.

A Los Angeles County woman identified by the court as Bridget B. sued her former husband for allegedly infecting her with HIV on their honeymoon. Bridget wants her ex-spouse, known as John B., to disclose the names of past male lovers and to produce his medical records. John contends she has no right to rummage through his sexual history.

A trial court judge ordered John to provide the information, but an appellate court ruled that the right of sexual privacy under state and federal constitutions limited the kind of information that could be requested during discovery, including the identity of past sexual partners.

That’s where this “reason to suspect” goes awry. From reading the story, it seems to me like the ex-wife is trying to prove that the husband should’ve had “reason to suspect” he’d exposed himself to STDs because he had gay sex (you know, the whole ‘gay = AIDS’ equation). What purpose could there be in identifying the former partners? Even if you find that the husband slept with Big Gay Al and Mr. Slave, there probably was no reason for the husband to suspect Big Gay Al and Mr. Slave were HIV+ when he slept with them; most HIV+ people show no outward symptoms. So is she fishing to find a very gay, visibly AIDS-ridden former partner to parade in court to prove that her philandering husband should’ve known he’d give her AIDS?

Jenny Pizer, senior counsel of Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, said she hoped the court would come up with a rule that applied to all sexually transmitted diseases, not just AIDS. She also said her group has strong concerns about protecting the privacy of third parties who could be pulled into a lawsuit.

“One of the very important issues â€? is the extent to which litigants can do a fishing expedition,” Pizer said.

Even with that, I worry about the precedent of courts issuing subpoenas and deposing witnesses on our sexual histories. I fear any bitter ex-wife/husband, ex-girl/boyfriend, or even a one-night stand, could use this as a weapon to exact revenge on their ex- who gave them the clap, herpes, or the crabs*, and invade the privacy and potentially ruin the lives of former partners (“Gee, honey, where ya goin’?” / “Ah, I have to go to court to testify that I once blew a guy while doing X at a rave.” / “That’s nice, dear. Do get home on time for dinner, though; we’re having ribs.”)

* When I was twenty-two, I caught the crabs. Groupies come and go; but crabs never leave you lonely. Anyhow, I asked my dad what I should do. He said I needed a razor, an ice pick, and some lighter fluid. He said you shave off half of your pubic hair, then you pour the lighter fluid on the other half. You set the hairy half on fire, and when the crabs come running out to the bald side, you stab them with the ice pick.

Now you know why I turned out like I did.

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