Minnesota Sodomy Law Struck Down
PlanetOut.com Network, May 21, 2001
By Barbara Dozetos
SUMMARY: A judge has ruled that Minnesotas sodomy law illegally pries
into peoples private lives even when it is not enforced.
A Minnesota court has struck down that states sodomy law as an
unconstitutional invasion of personal privacy.
Hennepin County Judge Delila F. Pierce granted a summary judgment request
from seven individual plaintiffs and the Lavender Bar Association, declaring
the statute unconstitutional "as applied to private, consensual,
non-commercial acts of sodomy by consenting adults, because it violates the
right of privacy guaranteed by the Minnesota Constitution."
"This is a tremendous victory because of what sodomy laws do, but
also because of what they say," said Matt Coles, director of the American
Civil Liberty Unions Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, which, along with
the ACLUs Minnesota state affiliate, filed Doe, et al. v. (Gov.) Jesse
Ventura, et al. last summer. "A societys laws are its core
statement of right and wrong. Sodomy laws, because they are understood to
primarily apply to lesbians and gay men, marginalize gay people and their
pursuit of equal citizenship," said Coles.
In a hearing before Pierce on April 19, attorneys representing the
plaintiffs argued that the existence of the law on the states books
impacted their lives, even though none of them had actually been arrested for
or charged with acts of sodomy.
A quadriplegic man identified as "John Doe" signed on as a
plaintiff because he is capable of sexual intimacy with his wife only in forms
criminalized by the state law.
Plaintiff Mark Roe, a married elementary school teacher, said he could lose
his credentials if he were cited for breaking the sodomy law.
Another plaintiff, Kim Nyhus, a divorced gay man, joined the case because
he risks losing visitation rights with his children because of his violation
of the sodomy ban.
Other plaintiffs cited the possibility of being evicted from rental
properties because of their criminal records.
Additionally, doctors and lawyers professional licensure could be
affected. In a memorandum attached to Pierces judgment, the judge noted
that the state application for a medical license requires applicants to swear
that they have "not engaged in any of the acts prohibited by the statutes
of Minnesota." A similar requirement exists in the Rules of Professional
Conduct for Minnesota attorneys.
Gay and Lesbian Rights Project attorney Leslie Cooper said the attorney
general might file a motion asking the judge to limit the rulings effect to
only the plaintiffs listed in the suit. But ACLU attorneys will request that
the court certify the case as a class action suit a move that, according
to Cooper, would leave "absolutely no question" that the sodomy law
could not be enforced directly or indirectly against anyone in the state.
"Its unfathomable that the Ventura Administration would want the
court to limit this ruling," Cooper said. "The sodomy law has been
declared unconstitutional -- and the state has no good reason to say that it
should be unconstitutional from some people, but not everyone."
The Minnesota ruling comes on the heels of a similar court decision in
Arkansas and the repeal of Arizonas sodomy law by that states
legislature. Fifteen other states have laws prohibiting oral and anal sex
between consenting adults, according to the ACLU.
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