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High Court Won’t Bar Gay Bathhouse Closing

Times Staff Writer

The state Supreme Court on Monday let stand the first court order issued in Los Angeles County closing a bathhouse that catered to homosexuals in a renewed campaign by authorities to stop the spread of AIDS.

The justices refused to grant a hearing to attorneys for Mac’s, a bathhouse in Silver Lake, contesting a preliminary injunction issued last August that immediately shut down the business pending trial. Only Justice Marcus M. Kaufman voted to hear the appeal.

In issuing the injunction, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Miriam A. Vogel found that the operators of the bathhouse “knowingly facilitated and allowed” high-risk sexual activity in violation of new county health and safety regulations designed to combat AIDS.

Three years ago, the county made a similar attempt to close gay bathhouses but a Superior Court judge ruled there was not sufficient evidence that they posed a danger to the public health.

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New regulations, adopted by the Board of Supervisors last January, prohibit anal and oral sex--with or without condoms--and require windows in private rooms so that patrons’ activities can be monitored.

Last May, in a legal test of the new regulations, county authorities filed a civil action seeking the permanent closure of Mac’s after a three-month undercover investigation revealed what they said were widespread violations.

The stylish, split-level facility catered to regular customers, including many professional men, and was equipped with 52 private rooms and several hundred lockers for patrons, according to court papers.

Deputy County Counsel Steven J. Carnevale welcomed Monday’s action by the high court, predicting it would provide new incentive to the 10 remaining licensed bathhouses in the county to comply with the new regulations.

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“This was not a ruling on the merits of the regulations,” Carnevale said. “But it will still have an effect when people see that a lower court can issue a closure order and the high court is not going to block it.”

In their appeal to the justices, attorneys for Mac’s contended that the preliminary injunction violated the constitutional rights of association of the bathhouse’s patrons and asked that the business be permitted to reopen. By requiring closure immediately, the injunction will force the bathhouse into bankruptcy, making the outcome a trial irrelevant, the lawyers said. No date has been set for the trial.

The attorneys also contended that after the county filed suit, the bathhouse made a new effort to comply with the regulations, requiring patrons to sign copies of the rules and equipping employees with flashlights to help monitor activities by the customers.

In their move against the bathhouse, county authorities presented data showing a conclusive link between oral and anal sex and the spread of AIDS. Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner estimated that up to 30,000 sexual contacts occurred each month in bathhouses and said it was “crazy” to sanction such activity while attacking AIDS on other fronts.

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Attorneys for Mac’s contended that activities in bathhouses were actually “safer than in the general population” and that closing down such facilities would only increase the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.


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