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Court: Wife entitled to husband's sexual history
  By Matt Krupnick
The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that an HIV-positive woman is entitled to know her husband's sexual history to determine whether he should have known he had the virus when they were married.
The 4-3 decision in the Los Angeles County case overturned part of an appeals-court ruling and allowed the woman, identified only as Bridget B., to request information about her husband's sexual encounters with men in the months before their July 2000 wedding. Bridget's 2002 lawsuit claimed her husband negligently or intentionally infected her with the virus that causes AIDS.
Writing for the majority, Justice Marvin Baxter noted that state laws meant to crack down on intentional HIV transmission "are strong statements by the Legislature that the spread of HIV is a serious public health threat and that its control is of paramount importance."
While the husband, John B., argued that disclosing information about past encounters would violate his privacy, the court ruled that he "substantially lowered" his privacy expectations by alleging that he was infected by his wife.
Bridget tested positive for HIV in September 2000, shortly before her husband's positive test. More than a year later, John told her he had had sexual relations with men before and during their marriage.
The wife's suit claimed John did know or should have known that he was infected. The court agreed, saying that people who engage in high-risk sexual behavior have the responsibility to warn their partners about the possibility of HIV infection.
Justices Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno dissented, saying it would be unfair to hold John accountable if he did not know he was infected. John argued that a test in August 2000 showed he was HIV-negative.
Furthermore, Moreno wrote, the case could have a chilling effect on voluntary disclosure of HIV status.
"If a person learns through testing that he or she is HIV positive," Moreno said, "he or she would have no incentive to disclose the results of his or her status to . . . former sexual partners, because . . . to do so would invite them to sue him or her."
UCLA law professor Lara Stemple called the ruling "disconcerting."
"I wouldn't say it suddenly requires all spouses to disclose all sexual partners," said Stemple, who teaches a class on human rights and sexual politics. "But I think it's the beginning of the erosion of sexual rights, using HIV as the reasoning."
Attorneys for neither spouse returned phone calls from the Times, but John B.'s lawyer told the Associated Press that the ruling makes it difficult for people to know what to tell sexual partners.
"There is bound to be confusion and uncertainty as people go about their social lives and what people have to disclose," said Eric Multhaup, the husband's attorney.
Monday's ruling sends the legal battle back to lower courts.
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