Fight Against State Sodomy Law Set for Pulaski County Hearing
Arkansas Democrat Gazette,
November 28, 2000
Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203
By Traci Shurley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
A two-and-a-half-year legal battle over an Arkansas law that makes same-sex sodomy a
crime will soon be left up to a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge to decide.
Both sides in the civil lawsuit, originally filed against the Arkansas attorney
generals office and the states prosecutors by seven homosexual Arkansans, are
scheduled to appear at a hearing Jan. 29 before Circuit Judge David Bogard to argue
motions for summary judgment. The motions, which request the judge to make a finding on
the legal filings in the case without a formal trial, were filed last week.
According to Arkansas Code 5-14-122, sodomy between people of the same sex is a Class A
misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to
In a motion for summary judgment filed Nov. 20, attorney Ruth E. Harlow, who represents
the plaintiffs, argues that the law violates her clients right to equal protection
guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution. Harlow also claims that
the law violates the plaintiffs rights to privacy.
"The act thus creates two vastly different rules depending on who engages in these
forms of intimate behavior," writes Harlow, an attorney for the New York City-based
civil rights group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Those who have a
same-sex sexual attraction ... are forbidden this particular behavior in all contexts, no
matter how committed their relationship or how private the setting. They are branded
criminals and threatened with prosecution, while their heterosexual neighbors freely
practice the same intimate contact without criminal penalty or stigma."
The seven plaintiffs first filed a lawsuit opposing the sodomy law in January 1998 in
Pulaski County Chancery Court. In June 1999, as part of a ruling on a prejudgment appeal,
the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the case should be transferred to circuit court.
Also in that ruling, the Supreme Court rejected an argument by defendants that the lawsuit
wasnt worthy of a courts attention because none of the plaintiffs had actually
been charged under the law.
In a later ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed the attorney generals office as a
defendant in the lawsuit. Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley is now the sole
defendant, representing prosecutors across the state.
In the motion for summary judgment filed on Jegleys behalf last week, Assistant
Attorney General Timothy Gauger said that there is no right to individual privacy
contained in the Arkansas Constitution or the U.S. Constitution that would prevent a state
from criminalizing homosexual sodomy.
Gauger writes that in order to prove that the law violates equal protection rights
guaranteed under the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions, the plaintiffs must show that there
is no "rational basis" for the law. They cant do that, he says.
"Plaintiffs, and undoubtedly others, passionately believe that the act represents
backward thinking, intolerance, and bad public policy, but
plaintiffs have presented their complaint to the wrong forum," Gauger writes.
"The people of the state through their elected representatives have expressed the
view that homosexual sodomy is immoral, and under the federal and Arkansas constitutions,
there is no barrier to states criminalization of such conduct."
Gauger wrote in a brief filed with last weeks motion that the pretrial
information provided to his office by the plaintiffs falls short of being enough "to
support a claim that the threat of criminal prosecution of plaintiffs by
defendant Jegley or any other member of the defendant class is sufficiently
He also argued that the plaintiffs still havent shown a "justiciable"
cause, one subject to court jurisdiction, exists in the case because they cant show
theyve been threatened with enforcement of the law.
In answer to that assertion, Elena Picado and the six other plaintiffs in the case
filed affidavits last week saying that even though they hadnt been arrested, they
felt harmed by the sodomy law.
Picado, 45, a Little Rock high school teacher, has lived with her female partner in
Little Rock for eight years. She said in her affidavit that she became part of the lawsuit
in order to challenge the states continued incursion on her rights. Picado said she
is being "stigmatized as a criminal for normal human behavior acting on my
sexual orientation, a core part of my identity, and engaging in loving behavior with
Like other plaintiffs, Picado said that even though the law isnt enforced, it is
often referred to as justification for further discrimination.
"I particularly fear that, as has occurred with other gay parents in the state,
the act will be used to diminish my parental rights to my own children, even without my
being prosecuted or convicted," she wrote. "The acts criminal condemnation
fuels an atmosphere in Arkansas in which many believe that it is acceptable to
discriminate against me and other gay people, and even target us for verbal abuse or
According to the American Civil Liberties Unions Web site, Arkansas is one of
five states with sodomy laws targeting same-sex acts. The others are: Missouri, Kansas,
Oklahoma and Texas. Courts in Missouri and Texas have ruled against the sodomy laws there.
Texas is planning to appeal that decision, according to the ACLU.
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