In a post-election era of increased prejudice, bigotry and hate crimes, it is more important now than ever that Americans learn to stop discriminating against others based on gender identification, race, sexuality and disease.
A bill passed by Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco and other state lawmakers proposed that knowingly exposing someone to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through unprotected sex without telling them about the disease should be considered a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
The measure would also apply to those who donate blood or semen without alerting the respective bank that they have been diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or have tested positive for HIV.
Naturally, the bill was met with opposition from Republicans, who claim that the act of knowingly exposing someone to HIV through unprotected sex justifies a felony; HIV treatment is lifelong, so the mark on a criminal record must be lifelong too. However, this is more than just a Democrats vs. Republicans issue — it’s about fixing outdated laws to make them applicable to today’s society and recognizing the various medical advances that have been made since the law was initially implemented.
Criminal transmission of HIV, as the act is formally called, is tried on the same level as manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery and various drug crimes. One Iowa case saw Nick Rhoades, an HIV-positive male, indicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison (the statutory maximum sentence under Iowa law) even though he claimed he wore a condom and there was no proof of intent to transmit the disease at the time of his sexual encounter.
Any criminal record — especially one with a felony (non-violent or not) makes life significantly more difficult. It makes it near impossible to get any corporate job and if convicted, felons lose their rights to vote, possess firearms and receive public funding for higher education. Additionally, under California law, anyone charged with any type of sex offense will have to register as a sex offender for life; failure to do so is considered a violation of parole and is grounds for an arrest warrant.
The fact that criminal transmission of HIV is still seen as equally felonious as first-degree murder is absurd. While this was once perhaps a rational thought in the 1980s when there was no cure and being diagnosed with AIDS was equivalent to receiving a death sentence, today that is no longer the case.
According to an article by the Los Angeles Times, only 1,561 out of 126,241 people with diagnosed HIV infection died in 2014. The increased availability of medication that suppresses the AIDS-causing virus and the increased survival rate in those that are diagnosed as HIV positive disproves the belief that there is absolutely no remission from the disease.
This bill is simply another step towards ending the 1980s stigma surrounding homosexuals, caused by the fear and ignorance of individuals during that time period. Labeling those diagnosed with HIV as dangerous felons is something that would be expected when AIDS was considered the “gay plague,” when increased homophobia was justified and encouraged. Ostracizing those who are HIV-positive forces them into a state of fear. They are more reluctant to seek treatment for their illness and have a lower chance of survival because of it.
The first step to ending AIDS is to decriminalize and destigmatize it and this bill is only the beginning.