Adrian, Mich., is a town of 20,000, partly agricultural in its economy and partly sustained by manufacturers of auto accessories, chemicals and paper.

Last June 12, the Daily Telegraph ("Serving Lenawee County for 97 Years") reported on its front page that 16 men had been arrested and arraigned for engaging in homosexual activity in Island Park. The charges included gross indecency (a felony) and indecent exposure.

The townspeople didn't have to be curious for long as to which of their neighbors were in the dock. Helpfully, the Telegraph printed their names and addresses, with rather calamitous effects on the lives of some of them. (Half were over 40 and married.)

It turned out that the police had spent 2 1/2 months covertly watching the area near a towering, hollow sycamore tree in an isolated section of the park. They dug foxholes, wore camouflage uniforms -- one cop pretended to be a tree -- and used special video cameras. The surveillance took place about three times a week for several hours at about lunchtime.

It's hard to present an effective defense in court for having sex in public. Even William O. Douglas, the freest spirit the Supreme Court ever had, drew a line at that point. But as the men began showing up for trial, there soon appeared some serious problems of fairness in the way they were being tried -- particularly in the demeanor of the judges toward them.

One of the judges, Kenneth Glaser, said in open court: "I don't see homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. I see {homosexuality} as a sickness. It's not a lifestyle I can tolerate at all."

The statement did not quite give the appearance of a dispassionate jurist.

Another of the judges, John Timms -- agreeing with police chief David Emerson -- said: "This case is about performing sex acts in a public place. It just so happened that this involved two males, but the principle is the same whether it was males, a male and female or two females."

Later in the year, Judge Timms was dealing with felony charges against a man and woman accused of gross indecency for having sex in the parking lot of a bar. He ruled "as a matter of law" that this act did not "offend the common sense of decency in the community." Meanwhile, the sister of one of the defendants told the Daily Telegraph: "Eight years ago, I was the victim of an attempted rape. He only got a $500 fine, three days in jail and five years probation." Her brother, however, got 90 days behind bars.

The sentences imposed on the Adrian defendants -- all of whom were convicted or pleaded guilty -- ranged from 15 days to a year in prison. Some of the men lost their jobs, and the wife of one defendant lost her license to operate a nursing home as a result of her husband's felony conviction. Some defendants' homes were vandalized.

Angry demonstrators from the ranks of the Adrian Defense Committee came to the town from Detroit, Ann Arbor, Toledo and other cities. They included several ACT-UP groups, along with, among others, the Lesbian and Gay Law Caucus at the University of Maine law school.

More than 200 of the protesters marched through the town in September, but a more surprising show of concern appeared in October in a half-page ad in the Telegraph.

The 155 signers described themselves as "people who live and work in the Lenawee County area. {We} express our horror at the lack of compassion and tolerance recently shown toward the homosexual members of our community. We affirm the supreme dignity of all people. We affirm that all people, including lesbians and gay men, are equally entitled to justice, humane treatment and the respect and love of their neighbors."

Actually, some auguries of this declaration could have been seen in the letters column of the paper. In June -- despite vivid support of the police action by the fundamentalist Adrian Christian Complex -- Rev. William Auth and Rev. Ronald Calven wrote that while the prevention of public sex is a valid issue, "protection of individual rights and compassion for victims of bigotry" also ought to be considered. They added that if any of the defendants should be found not guilty, the press -- by printing their names and addresses when they had merely been arraigned -- had "effectively subverted" the principle of "innocent until proved guilty."

Deborah Pellowe, a vocational school administrator, told the Detroit Free Press that the thought of two men fondling each other in a public park disgusted her, and she would not want her daughter to see it. But she added, "Are these people going to jail because of what they got caught doing, or because they have a different lifestyle? What would they have done if these were heterosexuals?"

If they had been heterosexuals having sex in an isolated part of the park, would they have been surveilled over 2 1/2 months by the police, would they have lost their jobs and would they have had their homes vandalized in Adrian?