There is a long list of public figures whose personal motto seems to be: "Hate the sinner, love the sin."
It's hard to work up much sympathy for Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). He had a perfect legislative score from traditional-values groups, a zero rating from gay civil-rights groups, supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, and refused even to commit to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring for his own Senate staff. But what exactly was criminal about his conduct in that Minneapolis airport bathroom?
From the arrest report, here's what Craig allegedly did: (1) put a duffel bag at the front of his stall; (2) peered through a crack into an adjoining stall; (3) tapped his foot; (4) moved his shoe over until it touched an officer's; and (5) ran his fingers along the underside of the stall divider. That's it.
Given the long history of police fabrication of evidence and entrapment of gay men in these sting operations, there should be no presumption that the officer's version of events is correct. But assuming for the sake of argument that Craig did everything the officer alleged, how was it the basis for a criminal charge that could get him a $1,000 fine and/or ten days in jail?
Disorderly conduct is a notoriously nebulous crime, allowing police wide discretion in making arrests and charges for conduct or speech that is little more than bothersome to police or to others. The "disorderly conduct" statute to which Craig pleaded guilty provides that one who knowingly “[e]ngages in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others” is guilty of the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(3) (2004).
More specific criminal charges were not advanced. A charge of interference with privacy was dismissed. Craig was not charged with any other crime, like public lewdness, indecent exposure, public sexual conduct, solicitation of prostitution, harassment, resisting arrest, or assault.
People should not have to tolerate actual sexual conduct in public places, but that's not what happened here. Craig's conduct was not obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy. The officer might have considered Craig's actions "offensive . . . conduct . . . tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others." But if that's so, it seems a pretty thin basis for charging him. A reasonable person faced with Craig's alleged behavior would have moved his foot away and/or muttered a simple "no thanks" or "stop that," which likely would have brought an end to it. A continuation of the unwelcome behavior might then have been enough to charge him with something, but again, that didn't happen. In fact, the officer tapped his own foot in response, indicating the interest was mutual.
At most, Craig was implicitly inviting another adult to engage in some kind of sexual behavior in a public place. I'm not a Minnesota criminal lawyer, but I don't think asking a stranger for sex in a public place, while vulgar and rude under many circumstances, would by itself be a crime under state law. At any rate, Craig wasn't charged with that.
What really seems to have happened is that the airport police had received complaints about sexual activity and were acting over-zealously to deter it, regardless of the niceties of state criminal law. Many gay men throughout our history have felt the sting of these public decency campaigns, have been arrested for alleged sex crimes, and have pleaded guilty at unusually high rates in order to avoid the embarrassment and other consequences of being outed. When newspapers print their names, as they often do, the consequences can be devastating. Like them, Craig probably wanted to avoid publicity and pleaded guilty to "disorderly conduct" in a futile effort to save his reputation and his job. Whatever we think of Craig's views on gay rights, or of the cosmic justice in this particular Senator being ensnared in these particular circumstances, it's difficult to see how he's a criminal.
UPDATE: Professor Ted Sampsell-Jones (William Mitchell), who has far more knowledge than I of Minnesota criminal law, writes:
Minn. Stat. 617.23, the indecent exposure statute, covers lewd or lascivious conduct in a public place. Sex and masturbation count as lewd and lascivious acts. There is, however, some Minnesota case law suggesting that public restrooms aren't "public places" once you close the door to your stall. State v. Bryant, 177 N.W.2d 800, 803-04 (Minn. 1970).
Even if the completed act would be a crime, it's doubtful that merely asking for sex in the restroom would be a crime.
Minnesota, unlike some jurisdictions, does not have a general solicitation statute. Mere solicitation of a crime is not a crime. State v. Lowrie, 54 N.W.2d 265, 266 (Minn. 1952); State v. Johnson, 2005 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 352 at *9. Minnesota does of course have an attempt statute, 609.17, but that requires a substantial step toward completion of the crime, plus the specific intent to commit the crime. I think it's possible but doubtful that Craig's acts would count as a substantial step, and it's also possible but doubtful that you could infer such a specific intent. Or rather — there's some inference there, but it's not strong enough to support guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.