Arthur Warner sitting
Farewell to Arthur Cyrus Warner

by John Lauritsen

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. He then
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 lamps.

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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 standing 

Arthur Warner's Certificate of Registration, England 1953.
Arthur Warner's Certification of Registration, England 1953

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