Court: Sodomy Laws do Not Cover Private Acts
PlanetOut.com Network, February 22, 2002
By Dan Kerman
SUMMARY: Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Thursday that the state’s
sodomy laws do not apply to private consensual acts.
Gay rights groups are applauding a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme
Judicial Court, which ruled Thursday that the state’s sodomy laws do not
apply to private consensual acts. The high court found that two statutes of
Massachusetts law cannot be enforced against those engaged in oral or anal
sex, as long as those involved did not intend it to be in public view.
"This is a tremendous victory," said attorney Jennifer Levi with
the group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). "The court
today clarified that these antiquated laws may not be used to intrude on
individuals’ rights to engage in common acts of intimacy in private
settings," she said.
GLAD filed the case in July 2000 on behalf of nine individuals, saying the
two provisions, which provide penalties of up to 5 and 20 years for
convictions for oral and anal sex, are unconstitutional.
Because none of the plaintiffs were currently subject to prosecution, the
court dismissed the case without ruling on the constitutionality of the laws.
However, before doing so, the court did make it clear that neither provision
applies to private, consensual conduct.
While lawyers for the state argued the statutes are used to put an end to
public sex, gay rights activists argued that police are using them to target
"It’s a national issue of discriminatory enforcement of the law;
targeting gay men with undercover vice-officers, while not similarly targeting
straight people," said Myron Dean Quon, deputy director of the Lambda
Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It’s great that Massachusetts has
joined other states in clarifying that police cannot use the sodomy law in a
discriminatory manner," Quon added.
According to Lambda, all 50 states had some type of law criminalizing
consensual sodomy as recently as the 1960’s. Currently only 13 states have
sodomy laws, three of which apply exclusively to same-sex conduct.
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