Massachusetts Sodomy Law Challenged
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
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