Lewinsky Case Prompts New Efforts To Repeal Laws Against Oral Sex
Critics Cite Public's Casual Response To Scandal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
February 26, 1998
900 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101
By Paul Tolme
The Associated Press
Because of Americans' ho-hum attitudes about supposed sex acts between President
Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, some critics of dusty old state bans on oral sex are hoping
those laws finally will be repealed.
Fifteen states including Rhode Island have laws banning oral or anal sex outright,
while six others have statutes forbidding the sex acts between homosexuals, according to
the American Civil Liberties Union. The laws have a variety of names: "Unnatural and
Lascivious Acts," "Unnatural and Perverted Sexual Practices," and
"Crimes Against Nature." The statutes rarely are enforced, and some are on hold
pending court challenges.
Critics hope the fact that many Americans are unconcerned with Clinton's sex life will
persuade lawmakers to erase the laws.
"Surveys show that a vast majority of us don't care what the president does as
long as it is consensual," said Sen. John Roney, D-Providence, who has submitted a
bill to eliminate Rhode Island's law against "Abominable and Detestable Crimes
"If you engage in oral sex in Rhode Island with your wife, you are subject to a
felony prosecution and conviction," Roney said.
Aside from Rhode Island, states with laws banning certain sex acts between
heterosexuals and homosexuals are: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana,
Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and
Virginia, according to the ACLU. Louisiana's law has been temporarily blocked pending a
trial, Alabama's doesn't apply to married couples, and courts in Michigan and
Massachusetts have indicated the laws don't apply to consensual sex.
Same-sex bans are on the books in Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Oklahoma and
Texas, the ACLU says. Court challenges are pending in Arkansas, Kansas and Maryland, while
a Texas court has said the law probably would be declared unconstitutional if challenged.
Penalties for violating the statutes range from a $200 fine in Texas to 5 years to life in
Idaho. Rhode Island's law carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
"These laws are an outdated holdover from a time when people believed it was the
role of government to control sex lives," said Michael Adams, legal counsel for the
ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "The attitude of people in the Clinton case
is: What consenting adults do in private is of no concern to anyone else."
A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling says the Constitution allows states to criminalize sex
"We're confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will reverse that decision,"
The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld the law twice in the last 15 years, said
Steve Brown, director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter.
"If you have a shaky rape case, you trail it with a sodomy charge," Brown
said. "If the defendant gets on the stand and says it was consensual, he's just set
himself down for a felony."
Rhode Island's law was invoked by North Smithfield police last year against two men
accused of consensual sex in the woods near Route 146. The men were arrested, but Attorney
General Jeff Pine's office refused to prosecute.
Pine opposes repealing the law outright because he says it could help prosecute a case
where rape is difficult to prove but where there clearly is a victim. He says he would
support exempting consenting adults from the law.
Arnie Owens, spokesman for the Christian Coalition in Virginia Beach, Va., said his
organization has no formal position on the laws, but, "Our supporters would oppose
efforts to repeal them."
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