Georgia Supreme Court Strikes Down Fornication Law
American Civil Liberties
Union, January 13, 2003
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Cates (212) 549-2568
ATLANTA—In a case argued by the American Civil
Liberties Union, the Georgia Supreme Court today unanimously struck down the
state’s fornication law, saying that the government may not "reach into
the bedroom of a private residence and criminalize the private, noncommercial,
consensual acts of two persons legally capable of consenting" to sexual
"Georgia’s seldom and selectively enforced fornication law, that
once landed citizens on the chain gang, is essentially a dead letter,"
said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia, who argued the case
before the court. "The Georgia Supreme Court today reaffirmed the
sanctity of our bedrooms from invasion by the eyes and arms of
In so doing, the Court found that Georgia’s constitutional right to
privacy protects a 16-year-old who was prosecuted for engaging in sexual
intercourse with his girlfriend in her bedroom. The ACLU of Georgia served as
counsel for 16-year-old "J.M.," (who has remained anonymous to
protect his privacy) along with local attorney Catherine Sanderson.
"There are ample laws to protect people and children from public,
forced, and commercial sex without criminalizing harmless conduct," said
Beth Littrell, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Georgia. "This law was
simply another intrusive attempt by the government to legislate morality. We
are relieved that very personal decisions regarding sexual intimacy will
remain just that—personal decisions."
Added to the Court’s 1998 Powell decision overturning the state’s
sodomy statute, "the Court has essentially ruled that adults have the
right to make private, sexual decisions without interference from the
state," said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia.
Georgia law sets the age at which a person can legally consent to sexual
intercourse at sixteen. Chief Justice Fletcher noted in his opinion that
"the only remaining rationale for the fornication statute is to enable
the State to regulate the private, sexual conduct of persons who the
legislature has determined are capable of consenting to that conduct, and that
is an insufficient state interest to overcome Georgia’s constitutional
protections of privacy."
"This decision signals how far we’ve come since the state convinced
the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to let it prosecute lesbian and
gay men for being intimate in their own homes," said Matt Coles, Director
of the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Let’s hope the U.S.
Supreme Court follows the Georgia court’s lead later this year when it
decides the fate of Texas’ law against same-sex intimacy."
The decision in today’s case, In re: J.M., (No. SO2A1432),
is available online at http://www2.state.ga.us/Courts/Supreme/
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