Farewell to Arthur Cyrus Warner
Arthur Cyrus Warner died in
Princeton, New Jersey on 22 July 2007 at the age of 89. A leader of the
homophile movement, he began attending meetings of a New York City
group known simply as The League in the late 1940s. From 1954 on he was
active in Mattachine New York, serving as chairman of the legal
department. In 1971 he founded the National Committee for Sexual Civil
Liberties (later renamed the American Association for Personal Privacy)
a high-level think tank comprising lawyers, historians, theologians,
and other professionals. From the beginning, Warner's focus, and that
of the group he founded, was legal reform — especially the repeal
of sodomy statutes (the generic term for laws that criminalize sex
between males). Working largely behind the scenes, they achieved
success in many individual states up to the eventual victory of the
Supreme Court in the Lawrence case of 2002.
After receiving his AB
degree from Princeton, Warner entered Harvard Law School. His studies
there were interrupted by World War II, and he served a stint in the
Navy, attaining the rank of lieutenant. After being given an
undesirable discharge, based on homosexuality, he returned to Harvard
Law school, receiving his LLB degree in 1946. Although he succeeded,
after a long legal battle, in having the Navy discharge changed to
honorable, the damage was done, and he was never able to practise law.
entered Harvard Graduate
School to study English history, receiving his AM degree in 1950 and
his PhD degree in 1960.
Warner held strong
opinions, and was never hesitant in expressing them. I vividly remember
the monthly meetings of the New York Scholarship Committee, held during
the 1970s in the apartment of Art History Professor Wayne R. Dynes. In
response to what he perceived to be an incorrect or sloppy statement,
Warner would command attention with the interjection: “Now just a
minute!”. He would then — for many minutes —
patiently and ruthlessly analyze the offending statement, exposing
factual errors, carrying faulty arguments to conclusions of manifest
absurdity, and dissecting the underlying philosophical premises. On
such occasions we were ultimately grateful, if a bit shaken or annoyed
at the time.
Raised as a Presbyterian,
though of at least partly Jewish ancestry, he became in his later years
a secular humanist, who regarded the homophile cause as being, on one
level, a struggle against superstition, part of the unfinished business
of the Enlightenment.
For most of the past half
century, Arthur Warner lived in a large house built by his parents.
Nothing in it changed since the deaths of his parents about four
decades ago, except some of the books. He was particularly proud of the
antique furniture: the tall clock and dozens of old and unusual table
I wrote Warner's biography
for a chapter in Before
Stonewall: Activists for Gay and
Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (Vern L. Bullough, Editor,
Harrington Park Press 2002).
Arthur Warner's Certification of Registration, England 1953