Activists React to Repeal of Georgia Sodomy Law in Minnesota
Its Expected to Spark Debate on Fairness And Privacy Issues
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 25, 1998
The Georgia Supreme Courts overturning of the states sodomy law on Monday
is likely to have little effect on a similar Minnesota statute, but observers said the
action might encourage debate about the fairness and necessity of such legislation.
At issue in the Georgia ruling was the states constitutional protection of
privacy. The sodomy law, the court decided, violated that privacy, saying, in essence,
that what happens between two consenting adults in private should not be subject to legal
The law applied to gay and straight people. Activists, however, have long said that
enforcement of those laws is much stricter against homosexuals and is often used to deny
gay parents custody of their children or to discriminate in employment and housing.
"The logic has been, OK, you break the law, so why should I hire you?
Youre a criminal," said Ann DeGroot, director of OutFront Minnesota, the
states largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) rights advocacy group.
Minnesota is one of 13 states that still forbids sodomy (oral and anal sex) between
adults, although six other states prohibit that sexual activity specifically between gays.
Conviction of sodomy is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or up to $3,000 in fines.
North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa repealed similar laws in the late 1970s, and
Wisconsin did the same in the early 1980s.
Many Minnesotans arent aware that the laws still exist here or that they apply to
everyone, DeGroot said.
"I talk to people all over the state, and if they know about it they think
its just some gay thing," DeGroot said. "But its not a gay issue,
its a privacy issue."
However, many national gay activists claimed Mondays ruling as a victory, saying
sodomy laws are "the linchpin in attacks" against the GLBT community. DeGroot
said that, if nothing else, the ruling might spark debate that could lead to a future
"It doesnt impact our law at all, but it sets a tone that says these laws
are no longer necessary and should be repealed," she said.
The last time activists sought to dismantle the Minnesota statute was in 1987, not long
after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, which said there was no
constitutional protection for homosexual relations. The state group was called the
Coalition for Privacy, a broad-based group that included the Minnesota Bar Association,
the National Organization for Women as well as the state Public Health Association.
Julia Classen led the effort, which employed a full-time lobbyist and had the support
of state Sen. Allan Spear and Rep. Karen Clark, DFLers from Minneapolis.
At that time, Minnesota afforded gays and lesbians no civil rights protection. The
thinking within the coalition was that until the sodomy law was nullified, legislators
would be unlikely to support an anti-discrimination act. Although the Human Rights Act was
amended in 1993 to include gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, the sodomy
repeal fell short.
Classen, a Realtor, attributed the failure to the social climate of the time: AIDS was
still a major health issue, and the morality question surrounding homosexuality loomed
Eleven years have passed, and although the statutes are falling one by one, Classen
said it could be a while before Minnesotas law is removed from the books.
"There has been some discussion amongst the gay and lesbian community," she
said, "but I dont think anybody has decided, Hey this is our issue at the
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