New York Kills Last Vestige of Sodomy Law
June 20, 2003
By Beth Shapiro, New York Bureau
New York City—The New York State
Legislature has abolished the last references to sodomy in the state’s penal
code. The legislation will now go to the governor to be signed into law.
In an agreement between the Assembly, the Senate, and
Gov. Pataki, the bill eliminates the terms “sodomy” and “deviate sexual
intercourse” from state law.
“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, the Executive Director of Empire Pride Agenda
For decades, New York has categorized sexual assaults
into rape and sodomy. By definition, the crime of rape arises out of “sexual
intercourse” and the crime of sodomy arises out of “deviate sexual
intercourse,” defined by statute to include both oral and anal sex. Victim
and gay rights advocates have long objected to this terminology.
“It has been excruciating for a woman who has been
raped to be told, read in the papers, have to 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
Co-Chair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims.
Gay rights advocates said that because of the
misinterpretation of 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
“No longer will any New Yorker read in the papers that
a victim has been ‘sodomized’ with all the misunderstanding and anti-gay
baggage that term comes with,” said Matt Foreman, the Executive Director of
the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who worked for this change since the
early 1990’s, as executive director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian
Anti Violence Project and then later the Pride Agenda.
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 term Deviate Sexual
Intercourse with “Oral Sexual Conduct” or “Anal Sexual Conduct.”
Since 2000, there has been consensus between the
Legislature and the Governor that this change was long overdue. In the closing
days of the 2000 session, however, agreement on the exact wording to be used
could not be reached and a statutory commitment to revisiting the subject was
included in the Sexual Assault Reform Act passed into law that year. In 2001,
the State Senate passed a bill proposed by the Governor that included this
reform. Over the last three years, the issue has been repeatedly pressed by
sexual assault and crime victim advocates.
“We owe our crime victim advocate allies—particularly
the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and its director, Anne
Liske, the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and its director
Harriet Lessel, and the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims and its director
Susan Xenarios—a tremendous debt of gratitude for pushing this issue so
forcefully,” said Van Capelle.
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