A vote in the California Assembly on Monday to modify a 60-year-old law that classified gays as sexual deviants reopened a little known chapter of social history in a state long known as a leader for gay rights.
In 1950, the state Legislature directed the Department of Mental Health (then known as the Department of Mental Hygiene) to conduct research into the causes and potential cures of homosexuality. The law was part of a larger investigation into sexual deviance.
It classified gays as sexual deviants and required the state to conduct research to find the causes of sex crimes against children. One research paper from the era completed as a result of the law noted that gays might ``engage in criminal aggressive behavior'' as they strive to ``overcome strong homosexual drives.''
The 80-member Assembly voted 62-0 to modify the law, removing all references to homosexuals in the provision that calls for research. It now goes to the state Senate.
"It's time to get this phony cure off the books,'' said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who is gay.
Supporters say change was long overdue. The law was written in 1950 in reaction to a series of sex crimes, including the molestation and murder of a 6-year-old girl in Los Angeles.
Its author, Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach, originally proposed an outright repeal, but some lawmakers wanted to retain language that encourages research into the causes of sex crimes against children.
"The result will be the law as it should have been written 60 years ago, but now we're setting it right,'' Lowenthal said.
The law was brought to her attention by Equality California, one of the leading gay rights groups in the state.
"Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice any more than one's height, and neither can be changed,'' said Geoff Kors, the group's executive director.
California has not conducted research on the cause of homosexuality for decades, but it released reports on the topic in the 1950s. At the time, the state directed the Langley Porter Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco to begin the investigation.
According to a progress report from 1951 titled ``Sexual Deviation Research,'' the state Legislature appropriated $100,000 for two years of research into the causes and cures of sex crimes. Curing homosexuality was meant to be part of that research.
While the reports released in the early 1950s did not determine a cause or cure for homosexuality, they included passages that revealed the prevailing scientific attitudes at the time.
"Passive, effeminate youths in attempting to assert themselves and to overcome strong homosexual drives may engage in criminal aggressive behavior,'' wrote Karl M. Bowman, former medical superintendent of the Langley Porter Clinic at UCSF. "There is also the danger that overt homosexuals, ordinarily harmless and friendly, may in their hunt for partners be attracted to latent homosexuals who both desire and fear homosexual expressions. Relations of this kind may end in atrocities and homicide...''
Bowman wrote that he arranged for scientists at the steroid laboratory of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine to study hormone levels in the urine and blood of homosexuals. It's unclear whether the study was completed.
"A great many studies have indicated some endocrine imbalance in homosexuals,'' Bowman wrote in the 1951 report. "The object of one study is to determine whether an imbalance between male and female hormonal substances exist.''
The Langley Porter Clinic continued to release reports over the next few years. Their research also aimed to determine the disposition of convicted sex offenders, the characteristics of victims of sex crimes and whether sex offenders were more likely to be married, single, widowed or divorced.
A review of those reports, which are housed in the California State Library, revealed few findings about homosexuality.