Last edited: February 14, 2005

Massachusetts Sodomy Law Challenged

The Advocate, December 17, 2001

Ten plaintiffs, both gay and straight, are asking Massachusetts’s highest court to rule the state’s sodomy laws unconstitutional. The antisodomy laws, which date to colonial times, establish penalties of up to 20 years for anal intercourse and five years for any "unnatural and lascivious act," interpreted to mean oral sex.

The gay rights group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is representing the 10 plaintiff in the case. According to attorney Jennifer Levi of GLAD, although few people are charged with the sodomy statutes, they can be used to selectively intimidate people. The plaintiffs are asking the court to overturn the laws, arguing they violate the right to privacy, equal protection, freedom of expression, and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Attorneys for the state argued that the laws are not used to target private sexual activity but are useful in clamping down on public sex. "All of the plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments...are grounded on the mistaken premise that the challenged laws apply to the private consensual conduct of adults," according to the brief submitted by Attorney General Thomas Reilly. "There is no fundamental right for consenting adults to engage in sexual acts in public," Reilly said in the court document.

Only 13 states, including Massachusetts, still have sodomy laws on the books, according to Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national gay rights group.

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