Last edited: December 06, 2004


Charges Against Gay Men Draw Criticism

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 2, 2002
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By Matthew Hathaway of the Post-Dispatch

Some gay-rights activists contend that the prosecution of six men on charges of having homosexual sex in Jefferson County might spark new challenges to what they call Missouriís "archaic law" prohibiting gay sex.

Last month, in a raid on an adult video store in High Ridge, undercover police arrested 13 people on charges ranging from sexual misconduct and prostitution to drug possession.

Police arrested several store patrons, alleging they had engaged in illegal sex acts, but charges were filed only against those men who allegedly violated Missouriís ban on gay sex, a class-A misdemeanor.

Some national and local groups say they are watching the case closely.

Opponents of the law said they hoped that the case would be the last use of the law, which was successfully challenged in a Missouri appeals court and, activists say, is encountering stronger opposition in Jefferson City.

Jefferson County prosecutor Bob Wilkins said that he hesitated to apply the rarely used law but added that it was needed to stamp out the "open and notorious activities at Award Video."

"It is not my intention to judge the conduct of consenting adults. This is not about throwing homosexuals in jail. This is about trying to prevent future conduct," Wilkins said.

For years, Award Video has been the target of anti-pornography and church groups.

Jeff Wunrow, executive director of PROMO, a group formed to overturn Missouriís ban on gay sex, said, "It is an archaic law, itís an obtrusive law and, as you can see in the Jefferson County case, itís a law that it is clearly biased against gay and lesbian couples."

Wunrow said PROMO will lobby intensively to try to get legislators to repeal the law in the current session.

Missouriís term limits law, which will force out dozens of legislators this year, could give repeal efforts a boost. Some outstate legislators who have quietly opposed the ban will not have to worry about the political ramifications of voting to repeal it, Wunrow said.

Wunrow said that PROMO and other local gay-rights groups have not been in contact with the men who were charged and that no decision has been made on whether to offer them legal help.

A national gay and lesbian legal group said any prosecution would be on shaky legal ground.

"The court of appeals has ruled quite clearly that if sex is consensual, it cannot be criminal," said Pat Logue, a lawyer for a national gay legal fund.

In 1999, Missouriís Western District Court of Appeals ruled that the stateís ban on gay sex was unconstitutional. The court ruled that "in order to convict a person of sexual misconduct . . . , the state must prove that the sexual contact alleged occurred without the consent of the victim."

The state didnít appeal that decision to the Missouri Supreme Court, which had upheld the banís constitutionality in a separate case in 1986.

Wilkins said the 1999 ruling is "not controlling" because it hasnít been heard and affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Wilkins said the appropriateness and constitutionality of the ban was a matter for politicians and courts, but not for prosecutors.

"All I do is look at the statutes, and this statute is still on the books," Wilkins said. "We donít make the law, we just enforce whatís there."

Missouri is one of five states that prohibit homosexual sex acts. Eleven other states prohibit both homosexuals and heterosexuals from engaging in certain sex acts. Illinois has no laws that prohibit or limit consensual homosexual sex.


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