Missouri’s Anti-Sodomy Law Similar to Texas Case
June 26, 2003
A U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Texas’
anti-sodomy law raises questions about the legality of a similar Missouri law,
Attorney General Jay Nixon said Thursday.
Gay-rights activists and legal analysts said Thursday’s
ruling knocked out laws in Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma that barred
consensual gay sex, even in private.
The ruling “has the effect of invalidating Missouri’s
law,” said Denise Lieberman, legal director for the ACLU of Eastern
“This was a pretty sweeping Supreme Court ruling that
recognized all people have a fundamental right to intimate association that
cannot be infringed by the state,” she added.
Nixon declined to go that far.
“Missouri’s law on sexual misconduct in the first
degree ... does contain similar language to the Texas law struck down today by
the court,” Nixon said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s ruling appears
to call into question Missouri’s law prohibiting consensual same-sex sexual
Nixon added that his office was reviewing the decision to
determine its impact in Missouri. He said his office would also be talking to
county prosecutors about the ruling.
But Ken Jones, an attorney who publishes the Missouri
Lawyer’s Weekly newspaper, said: “In my opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court
has overturned the Missouri statute, which singles out homosexuals engaging in
consensual sexual acts.”
Here’s the text of Missouri’s sodomy law, which is
“1. A person commits the crime of sexual misconduct in
the first degree if he has deviate sexual intercourse with another person of
the same sex or he purposely subjects another person to sexual contact without
that person’s consent.
“2. Sexual misconduct in the first degree is a class A
misdemeanor unless the actor has previously been convicted of an offense under
this chapter or unless in the course thereof the actor displays a deadly
weapon in a threatening manner or the offense is committed as a part of a
ritual or ceremony, in which case it is a class D felony.”
The law has seldom been enforced in Missouri.
But in Jefferson County last year, the county prosecutor
charged six men with violating the law at an adult video store. The ACLU is
representing four of those men in asking that the charges be thrown out on
constitutional grounds. Jefferson County Associate Circuit Judge Mark Stahl
held a hearing in February and had been awaiting the Supreme Court decision on
the Texas case before ruling.
“I would certainly hope that the judge would consider
this Supreme Court ruling to be dispositive and dismiss the charges against
our clients in short order,” Lieberman said. “Our clients have been
significantly affected by these charges. One had to move. One was fired from
Lieberman said she had not spoken to her clients about
Jefferson County Prosecutor Bob Wilkins, who filed the
charges, did not immediately return a call to his office in Hillsboro from The
The 6-3 decision came in a case brought by two men
charged in 1998 with violating a Texas law barring gay sex.
Missouri and three other states, including Texas, have
laws dating to the 1800s barring gay sex, even in private. Nine other states
ban consensual sodomy for everyone.
Missouri’s Supreme Court had upheld the state
anti-sodomy law in 1986. The state law carries a maximum penalty for
first-time offenders of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A family-values activist who has lobbied in the Missouri
Legislature against repealing the law called the ruling a “sad decision”
that curtails the state’s right to protect its citizens from health risks.
But Bob Barnett, the faculty advisor for the gay and
lesbian student organization BiGALA at Southwest Missouri State University
said the ruling is welcome news to people who advocate homosexual rights. “I
think people are excited about it. It’s been a long time in coming. The laws
were used to justify discrimination and the overturning of them is a great
Jeff Wunrow, executive director of PROMO, a statewide gay
rights lobbying organization, said he was “hugely pleased” about the
ruling. Wunrow has lobbied unsuccessfully for years in Jefferson City to
persuade lawmakers to repeal Missouri’s anti-sodomy law.
“This is something that has been a black eye on our
Supreme Court and our country and in Missouri for years, because the Missouri
law is similar to the Texas law,” Wunrow said from St. Louis. “This is a
marvelous step forward.”
He said gay rights activists planned rallies Thursday
night in Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield to celebrate the
Greg Razer, PROMO’s field organizer for western
Missouri, said Thursday was a historic day.
“It’s the first time in our nation’s history that
(gays) aren’t criminals simply because of who we are as a people,” he
Razer added that he hopes the ruling will lead to more
civil liberties for gay and lesbian couples, including opportunities to adopt
“Lots of times gay and lesbian couples have not been
allowed to adopt children,” he said. “In many circumstance the decision
was based on the fact that a gay or lesbian couple was violating the Missouri
sexual conduct law. That is no longer valid, we are no longer criminals in
Kerry Messer, president of Missouri Family Network, has
led lobbying efforts to retain the state law against gay sex. He said the
prohibition was a matter of “not only values, but public health” because
gay sex contributes to a greater number of sexually transmitted diseases.
“I don’t see our sodomy law as being any more
restrictive or offensive than our seat belt law or helmet law or mandatory
vaccination laws designed to protect the health of our citizens, so I’m very
disappointed,” Messer said.
The ruling reversed course from a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling 17 years ago that said states could punish homosexuals for what such
laws historically called deviant sex.
(with help from the Associated Press)
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