Court Mulls Arkansas Sodomy Law
News, January 30, 2001
SUMMARY: Both sides in Lambdas lawsuit against the gays-only sex law
are asking a judge to decide for himself whether something can be outlawed
just because most people disapprove.
A legal challenge to Arkansas gay-and-lesbian-only sodomy law filed
three years ago finally got a hearing in Pulaski County Circuit Court in
Little Rock on January 29, where both sides asked Judge David Bogard to rule
without a trial. Admitting that in the case known as "Picado v. Jegley"
that, "Ill be honest with you, Im not sure what Im going to do
with this," Bogard said hed make a decision within the next few weeks.
However, even if he agrees with the seven gay and lesbian plaintiffs
represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund that the law violates
their rights to privacy and to equal treatment under the law, Bogard lacks the
authority to issue an injunction barring enforcement of the law.
Arkansas sodomy law applied to heterosexual as well as homosexual oral
and anal copulation until its repeal in 1975, but in 1977 the current statute
was enacted applying solely to acts between people of the same sex. Violations
can be punished by up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. Neither side
can point to an instance in which the law was actually enforced, but the
lawsuit names as defendant Pulaski Countys prosecutor (standing for all
prosecutors) since enforcement is at prosecutors discretion. (Originally
the lawsuit named the states Attorney General, until Bogard ruled against
that.) The state has tried a variety of maneuvers to have the case dismissed,
including arguing its own sovereign immunity to being sued and that
prosecutors should not be sued since they have not enforced the statute, which
have already required two decisions by the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The Law of "Moral Disapproval"
The seven Arkansas residents challenging the law are diverse in age and
race and include teacher and mother Elena Picado, research analyst Robin White
and minister Randy McCain. After the hearing, White said, "As a
tax-paying, contributing citizen, I do not deserve to be called a criminal by
my state just because of who I am." McCain said, "This law gives
hate groups justification for what they do. [A declaratory judgment] would
give us protection against persecution." In addition to the threat of
criminal prosecution hanging over their heads, plaintiffs say the law is
commonly used to justify firings from jobs, evictions from homes, and loss of
children in custody disputes.
Lambda attorney Susan Sommer told the Associated Press before the trial
that the statute "violates the right to equal protection because it
singles out gay men and women for criminal punishment and stigma for engaging
in the identical conduct that is free to their heterosexual neighbors."
The states sole justification for the law, "perceived public moral
disapproval of homosexuality," is in Sommers opinion, "just
another way of saying that because the public disapproves of gay people, it
can subject them to a special rule that applies criminal sanction to their
conduct but not to others."
In court Sommer argued that the state has no compelling reason to dictate
"what consenting adults are doing behind their own bedroom doors"
and that, "The police simply do not belong in consenting adults
Arkansas Assistant Attorney General Timothy Gauger wrote in his motion
that, "Plaintiffs, and undoubtedly others, passionately believe that the
act represents backward thinking, intolerance and bad public
policy, but plaintiffs have presented their complaint in the wrong forum [the
courts]. ... 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." He said there is no right to privacy in
the Arkansas or U.S. constitutions (although there has been some recognition
of an implied right to privacy in the latter).
In court Gauger argued not only that the state has a right to enact laws
based on the "moral disapproval" of a majority of its citizens, but
that, "You could say the whole of criminal law is based on
Wheres the Harm?
Judge Bogard agreed that laws can be enacted based on morality but added,
"You say, Well, we think its immoral, so were not going to let
you do it. The problem is: In most other laws that are based on morality
you can see some discernable harm. I really have trouble finding some
reasonable harm here." Bogard questioned both attorneys extensively in
the course of the ninety-minute hearing.
Sodomy laws applying solely to gays and lesbians remain only in Kansas,
Oklahoma, and Texas, although courts have ruled against the Texas law.
Local attorneys cooperating with Lambda in the legal challenge are David
Ivers and Emily Sneddon of Little Rocks Mitchell, Blackstock & Barnes.
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