ACLU Hails Swift Court Action in Voiding Maryland's Criminal Ban on "Unnatural
American Civil Liberties Union, October 19, 1998
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BALTIMORE—In a legal and political triumph for lesbians and gay men,
a Maryland court has voided a decades-old law criminalizing same-partner oral sex.
The surprise ruling came virtually at the outset of a class-action lawsuit filed in
February by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the ACLU's National Lesbian
and Gay Rights Project.
"In battles over civil rights, same-sex marriage, and hate crimes, our opponents
have invoked laws like Maryland's to say we are not entitled to equal treatment,"
said Matthew Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "They can
no longer justify opposition to lesbian and gay rights by saying that we are criminals
once these laws are struck from the books."
In a decision issued late Friday, Circuit Court Judge Richard T. Rombro held that the
Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution would be violated "if acts, considered
not criminal when committed by a heterosexual couple, could be prosecuted when practiced
by a homosexual couple." Rombro then interpreted the statute not to apply to any form
of private, consensual, non-commercial sex.
The law, which dated back to 1916, made it a felony for lesbians and gay men to engage
in oral sex and attached penalties of up to $1,000 or 10 years in prison.
"This case was about securing basic civil liberties," said Michael Adams,
lead lawyer in the case for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "Laws
criminalizing sexual intimacy have left lesbians and gay men vulnerable to job
discrimination and open to unfair attacks in child custody cases."
The ACLU brought the case on behalf of five men and women who represent a broad class
of Maryland individuals who are negatively impacted by the state's law. Based on today's
ruling, the ACLU will now seek to certify the case as a class-action suit on behalf of all
"After today, everybody will be treated the same under laws concerning intimate
sexual activity in our state," said Dwight Sullivan, lead attorney in the case for
the ACLU of Maryland. "For the gay and lesbian people of Maryland, a dark cloud has
Laws criminalizing sexual intimacy, including sodomy, were once on the books in all 50
states, but many have been repealed or struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. Most
recently, the Montana Supreme Court voided its same-sex sodomy law last July, concluding
that the government has no place in the private bedrooms of consenting adults.
Sodomy and oral sex laws remain on the books today in 20 states, 15 of which target
intimate activities for both gay and heterosexual couples.
An updated list of state sodomy statutes can be found at: http://www.aclu.org/issues/gay/sodomy.html
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