Last edited: January 02, 2005

Activists Agree: Supreme Court Ruling on Sodomy Laws Far-Reaching

Associated Press, June 26, 2003

By Adrienne Schwisow, Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va.—Virginians on all sides of the Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on gay sex called the ruling a landmark that will make it increasingly difficult for governments to consider sexual orientation in matters like marriage and adoption.

“This is particularly exciting for those who have been branded criminals even though they have never been tried and convicted in the state of Virginia,” said Dyana Mason, executive director of the gay and lesbian lobbying group Equality Virginia, which organized a celebration in the shadow of the state Capitol on Thursday.

The ruling that struck down the Texas sodomy law extends to Virginia and 11 other states with similar laws. The Virginia law makes oral and anal sex between consenting homosexual and heterosexual adults punishable by between one and five years in years in prison. The General Assembly has repeatedly rejected efforts to repeal the law.

Ronald Krotoszynski, a constitutional law professor at Washington & Lee University Law School in Lexington, said the ruling leaves little “wiggle room” for the Virginia law to stand.

“This is a huge case. This is the Brown versus Board of Education for the gay community,” Krotoszynski said, referring to the 1954 Supreme Court decision that struck down segregation.

“States hostile to the concept of same-sex marriages and same-sex families are going to have a hard time avoiding the implications of this ruling,” he said.

While gay activists celebrated, conservative organizations reacted with outrage.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, pastor of the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, said Thursday was “as bad a day as we’ve had since Roe v. Wade” in 1973.

“The court allowed the right to privacy to trump the compelling interest the state has in promoting the family interests of right and wrong,” Falwell said. “It just says that privacy permits anything between consenting adults. It would actually makes bestiality legal if it’s taken to the limits or privacy.”

Lobbyists from the Family Foundation of Virginia vowed to continue their fight against the extension of marriage, adoption and custody rights to homosexuals.

Attorney General Jerry Kilgore said in a statement he was disappointed that the court had undermined “Virginia’s right to pass legislation that reflects the views and values of our citizens.”

He emphasized that the ruling does not affect state laws against prostitution, coerced sex acts, including with minors, or acts that take place in public. He also said the ruling doesn’t prevent the state from recognizing “that marriage is fundamentally between a man and a woman.”

Krotoszynski attributed the court’s majority decision in part to cultural changes that have seen homosexuals gain acceptance and even popularity in western cultures.

“There was no ‘Will and Grace’ in the 1950s, and certainly not in the 1850s,” Krotoszynski said of the TV show with openly gay characters. “The court doesn’t want to be the vanguard of change, but it seems to be comfortable validating those changes that have already taken place.”

Gay activists said they hope to seize on momentum from the decision to push issues they’ve been lobbying for years—changes in discrimination laws regarding employment, housing and adoption, and adding sexual orientation to the state hate crime statute.

Sam Garrison, a lawyer for 10 men convicted of soliciting oral sex in a Roanoke park in 1998, called the ruling a vindication over conservatives who tried to impose what he called an “arbitrary morality.” The Virginia Supreme Court refused in 2001 to hear an appeal of the convictions.

Jay Squires, a lawyer and the publisher of the Web site, said the ruling removed a huge roadblock to gays obtaining equal rights.

“Until today, I could have been arrested for a felony and sentenced to up to five years in prison for an act of intimacy with my partner of 15 years,” Squires said.

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