Arkansas Supreme Court Gives Green Light to Sodomy Challenge
Lambda Foils Second Attempt To Have Case Stopped Before Ever Being Heard
Lambda Legal Defense & Education
Fund, June 24, 1999
NEW YORK -- In an important step towards overturning one of the remaining state laws
banning most sexual intimacy for lesbian and gay couples, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled
unanimously Thursday that a lawsuit against the state sodomy law can proceed, Lambda Legal
Defense and Education Fund said.
Lambda is bringing the case on behalf of seven lesbian and gay Arkansans, arguing that
the law violates the right to privacy and unfairly criminalizes oral and anal sex for
lesbians and gay men.
A three-judge panel for the states highest court unanimously rejected attempts by
the Arkansas Attorney General and the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney to have the case
dismissed. The two defendants in the case already lost an attempt to stop the lawsuit in a
Said Lambda Senior Staff Attorney Suzanne B. Goldberg, who has argued on behalf of the
plaintiffs since the case was filed in January 1998, "We look forward to the next
step in this case -- the chance to show that the sodomy law violates the privacy and equal
protection rights of lesbian and gay Arkansans."
She noted, "Two Arkansas courts, including the highest in the state, have
recognized that people who are injured by a law can seek judicial relief without having to
wait to be arrested."
The Supreme Courts decision bolstered the case, Bryant v. Picado, by
affirming that the seven Arkansans have the right to seek relief from injuries caused by
the defendants power to enforce the sodomy law against them. The Court also
transferred the case to the state circuit court, which the justices declared was the more
appropriate venue for a challenge to acriminal law. Lambda originally filed the case in
state chancery court.
Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin, delivering the opinion of the court, wrote,
"We disagree with Appellants assertion that Appellees constitutional
challenge must be postponed until one or more of them is arrested and charged with
violating the statute."
Enacted by the Arkansas legislature in 1977, the statute makes private oral and anal
sex between two consenting adults of the same sex punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and
one-year jail sentence. Because the law does not apply to the same acts when done by
different-sex couples, Lambda argues that the sodomy ban treats lesbians and gay Arkansans
as second-class citizens.
Seventeen states have laws that criminalize certain private sexual acts between
consenting adults; of these, five states, including Arkansas, have laws that single out
lesbians and gay men.
Lambda recently helped overturn sodomy laws inGeorgia, Montana, Tennessee, and
Kentucky. Arkansas may wellbe the next state to dust off its law books and reject such an
archaic law. Lambda also is challenging the Texas HomosexualConduct Law on behalf of two
men arrested and charged with having sex insideone mans bedroom.
Lambda Cooperating Attorneys David Ivers and EmilySneddon of Mitchell, Blackstock,
Barnes, Wagoner and Ivers, andArkansas attorney Gary Sullivan, are also assisting in the
case. Lambda is the nations oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians,
gaymen, and people with HIV and AIDS.
(Bryant v. Picado, No. 98-01233)
Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager);
Suzanne B. Goldberg 212-809-8585 x 214
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