Homosexuals Win Challenge to State Sex Practices Law
Judge Bars Special Rules for Same-Gender Couples
October 17, 1998
501 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21278
By Caitlin Francke, Sun Staff
Lesbian and gay activists won a partial victory yesterday when a Baltimore judge ruled
that it was not illegal for people of the same gender to engage in sexual activity in
Circuit Judge Richard T. Rombro ruled that the states anti-sodomy law violates
homosexuals constitutional rights. The law prohibits oral sex between people of the
same gender but not between heterosexual partners. Lawbreakers face a maximum 10-year
prison sentence. Anal sex is illegal for everyone and was not part of the case.
"It cannot be doubted, as Defendants concede, that there would be an equal
protection violation if acts, considered not criminal when committed by a heterosexual
couple, could be prosecuted when practiced by a homosexual couple," Rombro wrote.
"One need only leave out the sexual component and test the actions in any other area
of criminal law. One group may drive at 60 miles per hour, but another would be prosecuted
for driving at a speed greater than 50 miles an hour."
The ruling clarifies the language of the anti-sodomy law.
Dwight Sullivan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who argued the
case, hailed the ruling as a victory. "Gays and lesbians and straights will be
treated the same under laws concerning intimate sexual activity," Sullivan said.
"Before this ruling, the law did not treat gays and lesbians the same."
Though the plaintiffs conceded that criminal laws are rarely enforced against people
engaging in consensual sex behind closed doors, they say the anti-sodomy law has other
ramifications. The law is used as ammunition in child custody cases and as the basis for
Catherine M. Brennan, a Baltimore attorney and one of the plaintiffs, said she was
pleased with the ruling. "The judge did what jurisdictions are doing across the
country, which is decriminalizing the lives of gays and lesbians," she said. "I
think the judge did what was both intellectually honest and morally correct."
The plaintiffs, however, lost a bid to have the states solicitation statute
declared unconstitutional. They say that statute has led to police sting operations
Sullivan said he is considering appealing that part of the decision.
The Maryland suit, filed in February, named as plaintiffs Brennan; Bruce Williams, a
city councilman in Takoma Park; his partner, Geoffrey Burkhart, an anthropology professor
at American University; Lawrence S. Jacobs, a corporate attorney and civic activist in
Rockville; "John Doe," a federal employee who was arrested in Anne Arundel
County; and Paula J. Peters, an Annapolis taxpayer who objects to government money being
spent on enforcing anti-sodomy policies.
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