Court Ruling Striking Down Sodomy Law Will Apply to Every Adult in Minnesota
American Civil Liberties
Union Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, July 2, 2001
Contact: Eric Ferrero; 212-549-2568; firstname.lastname@example.org
MINNEAPOLIS, MN A state judge today ruled that
every adult in the state is covered under a recent decision that struck down
as unconstitutional Minnesotas prohibition on oral and anal sex.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit challenging
the sodomy statute, had asked State District Court Judge Delila F. Pierce to
technically certify her earlier ruling as a class action, so there would be no
uncertainty about its impact. The state opposed this at a hearing last month.
"There can be no question now: Minnesotas sodomy law has been
struck down, and cannot be invoked anywhere in the state," said ACLU
Lesbian & Gay Rights Project staff attorney Leslie Cooper, who worked on
the case with lawyers from the ACLUs Minnesota state affiliate.
Pierces initial ruling, handed down in May, struck down the sodomy law
as it applied to private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy. The ACLU had
filed a lawsuit on behalf of several straight and gay Minnesotans who said the
sodomy statute violated the privacy rights they are guaranteed by the State
"This law invited the state into every bedroom in Minnesota,
criminalizing some of the most common forms of intimacy between adults,"
said Minnesota ACLU Executive Director Charles Samuelson. "It is
difficult to imagine a more blatant invasion of privacy."
Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, a defendant in the case along with the
attorney general and the state itself, agreed on the day the ruling was
released. "The judges action is consistent with the governors
principle that there are certain things the government should not have a role
in," Ventura spokesman John Wodele told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. But
just days later, the state filed legal papers seeking to limit the rulings
"The sodomy law was declared unconstitutional and the state had no
good reason to say that it should be unconstitutional for some people, but not
everyone," Samuelson said. "Were pleased that the court agreed,
and put this question to rest."
The states opposition was a stark reminder of the impact sodomy laws
have, said the ACLUs Cooper. "Theres a misconception that sodomy
laws are just archaic legal codes that remain on the books in name only, and
that theres no strong support for keeping them around," she explained.
"Its a wake-up call that the government of Minnesota actually asked a
court to say the law is unconstitutional for six or seven people, but nobody
The ACLU said Minnesotas sodomy law has a direct effect on citizens,
including 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. came on the heels of
several recent developments affecting similar laws nationwide. Earlier this
year, 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.
In 1961, all 50 states (as well as Puerto Rico and the District of
Columbia) had sodomy laws on the books. Since then, legislatures in 26 states
(including all of the states bordering on Minnesota) have repealed their
sodomy laws. The ACLU has helped successfully challenge sodomy laws in
Kentucky, Tennessee, Montana, Georgia and Maryland, arguing that they violate
In addition to Cooper of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, Teresa
Nelson of the Minnesota ACLU and Timothy Branson, from the Minneapolis law
firm of Dorsey and Whitney, are attorneys on the case challenging Minnesotas
[Home] [News] [Minnesota]