Minnesota Sodomy Law Struck Down
May 22, 2001
By Jan Prout
Minneapolis A state court has voided Minnesotas law prohibiting oral
and anal sex, but there are indications Governor Jesse Venturas
administration may step in and attempt to limit the ruling to the individual
plaintiffs in the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to defend the rulings statewide
impact if that happens.
"This is a tremendous victory because of what sodomy laws do, but
also because of what they say," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU
Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, which along with the ACLUs Minnesota
state affiliate last summer filed Doe, et al. v. Jesse Ventura, et al.,
a lawsuit challenging the sodomy statute. "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."
State District Court Judge Delila F. Pierce struck the law down, saying
that the court "declares [the sodomy statute] to be 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
Minnesotas sodomy law, which has been on the books since the 1800s,
prohibits both oral and anal sex between any adults. Penalties include up to a
year in jail and up to $3,000 in fines. In recent years, the law has been
directly enforced and also has been indirectly used to deny opportunities,
especially to lesbians and gay men in employment, child custody and other
areas. For years, efforts to repeal the law in the state legislature were
unsuccessful. Right-wing groups unsuccessfully tried to alter the law in
recent years, so it would not apply to married, straight couples.
Pierces decision striking down the sodomy law noted that the plaintiffs
in the case "represent a cross section of Minnesotans impacted by the
sodomy statute." The ruling should prevent the law from being enforced or
invoked anywhere in Minnesota, according to Leslie Cooper, the ACLU Lesbian
& Gay Rights Project staff attorney handling the case.
But the ACLU is asking the court to technically certify the case as a
class-action, which Cooper said will leave "absolutely no question"
that the sodomy law cannot be enforced directly or indirectly. At the end of
May, Minnesota Governor Jesse Venturas administration may file legal papers
opposing this, and a hearing would be held June 7.
"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 for some people, but not everyone."
The ACLUs clients in the case are state citizens whose jobs, homes and
relationships with their children were threatened by the sodomy law,
including, a quadriplegic married man who lives in Minneapolis, identified for
privacy reasons only as "John Doe." Because of his disability, the
only forms of intimacy he is capable of engaging in with his wife were among
those criminalized under the sodomy statute.
Other clients is a lesbian attorney in Minneapolis, who rents a townhouse.
Identified as "Jane Doe" in the lawsuit, she could have faced
eviction from her home because her lease prohibits illegal activity, and gay
law student in Minneapolis, Phil Duran, who lives in an apartment with a
similar lease. Duran took the state bar exam recently - a test that could have
been moot because individuals who violate state law, including the sodomy
statute, can be disbarred.
The ACLU also noted the 1997 arrest and prosecution of a Beltrami County
man who engaged in consensual oral sex with a woman. The sodomy law also was
used for years to help prevent passage of a state law banning discrimination
based on sexual orientation. That law was finally enacted in 1993.
The ruling in Doe, et al. v. Ventura, et al. comes on the heels of
several recent developments affecting similar laws nationwide. Earlier this
month, Arizona Governor Jane Hull signed a law repealing that states sodomy
statute. In March, a state court in Arkansas found its sodomy law
unconstitutional. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court is currently weighing the ACLUs
challenge to that sodomy law. But a Texas Court of Appeals upheld that states
sodomy law last month, in a decision now being appealed.
Excluding Arizona, Arkansas and Minnesota, 15 states have laws prohibiting
oral and anal sex between consenting adults, some of which only apply to
same-sex intimacy but all of which are used disproportionately against
lesbians and gay men.
[Home] [News] [Minnesota]