Last edited: February 14, 2005

Testimony of Bob Summersgill of The George Washington University Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae for Sodomy Law Reform

Testimony before the Committee of the Judiciary of the Council of the District of Columbia January 29, 1993.

Regarding the District of Columbia Criminal Code Right to Privacy Amendment Act of 1993, Bill 10-30.

By Robert J. Summersgill, President of the George Washington University Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae.

Members of the Council and fellow citizens:

The existing D.C. Law prohibiting non-commercial acts of sodomy between consensual persons of above the age of consent is ludicrous, archaic, unenforceable, pernicious, and flagrant interference by the government into the private lives of citizens. Consensual, non-commercial acts of sodomy are quintessentially private and lie at the heart of an intimate association beyond the proper reach of government regulation. Ninety-three percent of the adult population in the united states engages in oral sex; over 50% engage in anal sex.[l] I do. Most, if not all, of the members of George Washington University Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae like wise engage in acts of sodomy. And, I hope for your sakes, that the members of the D.C. Council, do frequently engage in oral sex as well as other forms of sodomy. However, should any of you be discovered in an act of sodomy, you would be considered by law to be unfit to hold office. The Sodomy Law makes felons out of all of us, punishable by up to ten years in jail and a one thousand dollar fine.

To properly enforce the law against consensual sodomy, it would be necessary to post an officer of the law in every bedroom in the city. Every motel and hotel in the city would have to be monitored for suspicious private activity between adults in what should be private. The spying and gross violation of constitutional rights of privacy and security in the home would dwarf that of Nazi Germany. No government in the western world would even contemplate the enforcement of this law.

The practical effect of criminalizing certain private intimate relations is discrimination and harassment. Although the law does not on it's face discriminate against gay men and lesbians, it is only same-sex relations which are prosecuted. It is a widely held, erroneous, belief that homosexual love making must

involve acts of sodomy. While heterosexuals may engage in, but don't require acts of sodomy in their love making. The extension of this belief is that homosexuality per se is illegal. Discrimination against lesbians and gay men is often predicated on this idea of criminality before action. Recently a Dallas police candidate was denied employment on the basis that she is a habitual criminal. The Texas Sodomy Law was declared unconstitutional as a result of her case. A similar case in Maryland is currently in litigation. In Virginia, the State Police refuse to hire gay men and lesbians because they are branded as be habitual criminals. At the George Washington University, the funding for the gay student group is routinely challenged on the grounds that the organization promotes "illegal activities." None of these acts of blatant discrimination involved any identified violations of the sodomy law, merely the idea that the law might be violated. Clearly the Sodomy Law is used for intimidation and the rationalization of hate and fear.

We are then left with the question of what legitimate government interest is served by an unenforceable, regulation of one of the single most personal activities in an individual's life which has no public ramifications. The claims that it protects the public health and welfare or that traditional Judeo-Christian values proscribe the conduct are not compelling reasons for government interference into peoples intimate associations.

The public health and welfare is not protected by this statute. The lack of enforcement against heterosexuals has undermined any deterrence that the severe penalty might have held. Further, vaginal intercourse, which is not covered by this law, is a ready and sufficient means of spreading nearly every sexually transmitted disease. Oral sex, by contrast, is considerably less likely to transmit disease. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta recognizes that the gay men have been the only demographic group to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the last decade. This was through pervasive education. Community education, not archaic laws, protects the public heath and welfare.

Traditional Judeo-Christian values on private and deeply personal issues are not compelling reasons for government interference. There is a fundamental right to privacy which is violated by this law. The rights of intimate association must not be over run by another's political or religious view. Nothing which violates basic rights should be codified into law. This includes traditional Judeo-Christian values or other religious convictions or doctrine. No matter how widely held or integrated into our society a traditional value, if this value compromises the personal liberty of any individual, then it is wrong and it cannot, must not be the basis of any law or statute.

No legitimate government interest can be served by denigrating person liberty in matters with no public ramifications. The only interest served by this compromise of personal liberty is the justification of hate and fear.


Additional comments on proposed amendments:

The question has been raised as to what the age of consent for decriminalizing sodomy should be. A quick reading of the D.C. Code shows that the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years old. Currently the Sodomy Law, consistent with other sex related crimes, recognizes 16 year olds as adults. Reforming the Sodomy Law to de-criminalize consensual, non-commercial acts of sodomy should be consistent with other D.C. Laws. The District of Columbia Code Right to Privacy Act of 1993, Bill 10-30, is consistent with existing District law. To amend Bill 10-30 and raise the age of consent for sodomy, without at the same time amending all the other sex-related crimes introduces inconsistencies into the law which will result in absurd situations such as a young married couple unable to engage in oral sex for two years without committing a felony.

The age of consent for most states is 16. It would place the District away from the majority of states to raise the age of consent to the age of majority.

A friendly amendment to invalidate a public referendum on this issue would be justified in the interests of protecting individual rights and to avoid a potentially ugly campaign.

Thank you.


[1] See: Schochet v. State, 541 A.2d 183, 206, 1988.

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