New York Deletes Sodomy from Books
June 20, 2003
The New York State legislature has agreed on a bill that
will eliminate the terms sodomy and deviant sexual intercourse from state law,
according to the statewide gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda.
A three-way agreement among the assembly, senate, and
governor on Thursday cleared the way for a vote in both chambers. “This
agreement will mean the last vestiges of New York’s sorry history of
stigmatizing homosexuality will be wiped off the books,” said Alan Van
Capelle, ESPA’s executive director.
For decades, New York has categorized sexual assaults as
either rape or sodomy. By definition, the crime of rape arises out of
“sexual intercourse,” while the crime of sodomy arises out of “deviate
sexual intercourse,” defined by statute to include both oral and anal sex.
Advocates for crime victims and gay rights have long objected to this
“It has been excruciating for a woman who has been
raped to...[have to] read in the papers, sign complaints, and testify on the
stand that she was ‘sodomized’ or subjected to ‘deviate sexual
intercourse’—these words only exacerbate the trauma of the assault and
have kept some victims from pressing forward,” said Susan Xenarios, director
of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victims Treatment Center and
cochair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.
Gay rights advocates say that because of the common
misinterpretation of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, most people
associate the term sodomy with gay sex, when in fact the overwhelming majority
of sodomy charges in New York involve oral sexual assaults by men against
women. “No longer will any New Yorker read in the papers that a victim has
been ‘sodomized,’ with all the misunderstanding and antigay baggage that
term comes with,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay
and Lesbian Task Force.
Under the new law, the current crimes of sodomy in the
first, second, and third degrees will be renamed “criminal sexual act” in
the first, second, and third degrees. The punishments for these offenses
remain unchanged. The new law also includes replacing the phrase “deviate
sexual intercourse” with “oral sexual conduct” or “anal sexual
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