Gay, Lesbian Activists Target Maryland Law Southeast County Briefs
In Historic Settlement with ACLU, Maryland Clears Last of its Sodomy Laws From the
In The ACLU Newsroom, January 19, 1999
For Immediate Release
BALTIMOREIn the first deal of its kind, state officials agreed to a court order
that will clear the last of Maryland's outmoded sodomy laws from its books, the American
Civil Liberties Union announced today.
The agreement, signed by Circuit Judge Richard T. Rombro, was finalized three months
after the court voided a law criminalizing same-gender oral sex in a challenge brought by
Under today's agreement, the state will give up another law which made it a crime for
anyonegay or straightto engage in anal sex, under penalties of up to
$1,000 or 10 years in prison. The state also will not appeal the court's ruling on the
oral sex law, which targeted only lesbians and gay men. In return, the ACLU agreed to drop
its remaining legal claims.
"This is the first time a state has voluntarily given up any part of a sodomy
law," said Michael Adams, lead attorney in the case for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project, which together with the ACLU of Maryland brokered the deal. "The
Court had already crippled these laws in its earlier ruling and now it has finally put
them to out to pasture."
"Today's settlement brings us one step closer to the day when the government will
no longer have the right to police anyone's bedrooms anywhere in the United States,"
he added. "And that day is surely coming."
In battles over civil rights, same-sex marriage, and gay adoption, anti-gay opponents
have invoked laws like Maryland's to justify opposition to lesbian and gay rights. Laws
criminalizing sexual intimacy have left lesbians and gay men vulnerable to job
discrimination and open to unfair attacks in child custody cases.
Attorney Lawrence S. Jacobs of Rockville, one of five plaintiffs in the ACLU case, said
conservative groups seized on the sodomy issue three years ago when he led a coalition
urging the local school board to add sexual orientation protection to its
"You try to raise a serious issue like discrimination against gay and lesbian
students and they come back at you with sodomy is illegal and you're a criminal," he
said. "But after today, I'm a little more inclined to think that Maryland's motto,
the free state, might actually be true."
Dwight Sullivan, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland said that today's
settlement considerably brightens the outlook for gay and lesbian civil rights in the
"With a recent favorable court decision on visitation rights for gay parents, and
a proposal to expand employment and housing discrimination laws to include sexual
orientation, 1999 is shaping up to be a good year for the gay and lesbian people of
Maryland," he said.
Sullivan noted that the agreement and court order also represent a privacy victory for
heterosexuals, who until today committed a felony if the engaged in anal sex in Maryland.
"While gays and lesbians are most often the targets of government policing of our
bedrooms, they are not the only victims of these laws," he said. "We are proud
to have made Maryland a safe place for all who engage in intimate sexual activity in
Today's action comes less than two months after a high court in Georgia voided that
state's 182-year-old sodomy law. The law invalidated by the court in Georgia is the same
law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in a famous 1986 case, Bowers v. Hardwick,
saying it did not violate the federal right to privacy.
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.
Sodomy and oral sex laws remain on the books today in 18 states and Puerto Rico; 13 of
these laws target intimate activities for both gay and heterosexual couples.
The ACLU also challenged the state's solicitation law when it applies to private,
consensual sex acts not involving prostitution. The claim was rejected by the court, but
the ACLU said it will consider litigation should a case of discriminatory arrest under the
Founded in 1920, the American Civil Liberties is a national, non-partisan organization
dedicated to preserving and defending the principles set forth in the Bill of Rights.
Through its Lesbian & Gay Rights Project and 53 state affiliates, the ACLU works on
more lesbian and gay related litigation and legislation than any other organization in the
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