Ventura Administration Tries To Limit Ruling Striking Down Sodomy Law; Hearing
ACLU Lesbian & Gay
Rights Project, June 6, 2001
Contact: Eric Ferrero, Public Education Director
Lesbian and Gay Rights Project/AIDS Project
125 Broad St., 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004-2400
Tel: 212-549-2568; Fax: 212-549-2650
MINNEAPOLIS, MN In a legal maneuver the American
Civil Liberties Union called "callous and absurd," attorneys for the
state of Minnesota will argue in court tomorrow that a recent ruling that said
states prohibition on oral and anal sex is unconstitutional should not
apply to anyone other than the small handful of plaintiffs named in the
State District Court Judge Delila F. Pierce struck down the sodomy law late
last month. The ACLU, which brought the lawsuit challenging the sodomy
statute, had requested that the case be technically certified as a class
action, to make certain that a favorable ruling would apply to all
Minnesotans. The state decided after the ruling to oppose this, and tomorrow
morning Pierce will hear arguments from the ACLU and state lawyers.
"This law invited the state into every bedroom in Minnesota,
criminalizing some of the most common forms of intimacy between adults,"
said Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU state affiliate in
Minnesota. "It is difficult to imagine a more blatant invasion of
Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, a defendant in the case along with the
attorney general and the state itself, agreed last month 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, Venturas administration filed legal papers seeking to
limit the rulings impact.
"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," said Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU Lesbian &
Gay Rights Project.
In court papers, the state argues that instead of certifying the case as a
class action, the court should force the ACLU to amend the initial lawsuit to
name all local law enforcement entities in the state as defendants.
"This is nonsense," said Coles, who has led court challenges to
sodomy laws in several states. "The issue here isnt who ought to be
sued but who ought to benefit from the courts ruling that the law is
Judge 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 plaintiffs are a half-dozen gay and straight
Minnesotans whose jobs, homes and relationships with their children are
threatened by the sodomy law.
The ACLU maintains that, as of now, it is extremely unlikely that any law
enforcement entity in Minnesota can enforce the sodomy law. "Any criminal
prosecution is brought in the name of the state of Minnesota. And last month,
Judge Pierce told the state the law is unconstitutional," Coles
explained. However, to leave "absolutely no question," the ACLU
asked that the case be certified as a class action so that every person
against whom it could possibly be applied would be explicitly covered by Judge
Pierces order, Coles said.
The states opposition is a stark reminder of the impact sodomy laws
have, according to the ACLU. "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," Coles said.
"Its a wake-up call that the government of Minnesota is actually
asking a court to say the law is unconstitutional for six or seven people, but
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 legislation 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. Last 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.
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 Leslie 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 sodomy law.
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