Last edited: February 14, 2005

Governor: It’s Not OK to Have Public Sex in Massachusetts

Boston Herald, March 2, 2001

BOSTON (Associated Press) — In case there’s any doubt: Massachusetts has not lost its Puritan values.

Gov. Paul Cellucci issued an admonishment Friday that the state "absolutely would not tolerate any sexual activity in public rest areas."

His clarification came after Massachusetts State Police released what appeared to be relaxed guidelines on how troopers should deal with possible sexual activity in public places.

State police reached an agreement in a legal battle with a gay man who twice was forced by a trooper to leave a highway rest area. As part of the settlement with the man, who was not identified, police agreed to release a "general order" on how troopers should treat people who are tempted to have sex in public places.

The general order points out that it’s illegal to have sex in a "public place," but it throws into question what might be considered a public place. It also says no one can be asked to leave a public area unless there is unlawful conduct.

"An area may be open to the public and not be considered a ‘public place"’ if the area is hidden so that a reasonable person wouldn’t expect to be seen by passers-by, the guidelines said.

"There are laws against having sex in public places and those laws have been on the books for a number of years and we will enforce those laws," said State Police Capt. Robert Bird.

But he said, "If you’re in a park and you go off the path and into the bushes, then it’s not necessarily a public place, because you have a reasonable expectation you won’t be seen."

It’s that last part that leaves some room for interpretation, and left the governor’s office uneasy.

"There has been no change in the State Police policy regarding enforcement of the Commonwealth’s criminal statutes," the governor said in a statement.

"The concern was that ... a family may feel they could not stop at a rest area safely and free from seeing something they may not want to see," said Cellucci spokesman Jason Kauppi. "That’s simply not the case."

There was no money paid other than legal fees in the settlement with the gay man, who was asked to leave a public rest area on Route 6 at least twice by Trooper Shawn Walsh. The man filed a lawsuit in August 1999, alleging state police were motivated by anti-gay stereotypes.

State police alleged the man had "unlawful intent" by being at the rest stop.

In the fall of 1999, a Middlesex Superior Court judge barred state police from forcing the man to leave the public rest area as long as he wasn’t breaking the law.

Gary Buseck, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said police were reacting to evolving laws.

"It’s been somewhat of an adjustment for our police forces to kind of come on along with these developing notions of privacy and to get a sense of leaving some of this behavior behind," he said.

State police already have begun training new recruits on the issues in the general order, and existing officers must also be trained on its principles.

"We don’t set the rules," Bird said. "The Legislature passes laws and our courts interpret them and it’s our job to enforce the laws as they’re written by the Legislature and interpreted by the courts."

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