North Carolina Panel Hears Sodomy Reform
May 12, 1999
The testimony in favor of repealing the 200-yr old sex law was strong, but the point is
moot in North Carolina - at least for now.
North Carolinas Senate Judiciary II Committee on May 11 heard testimony on state
Representative Ellie Kinnairds (D-Orange) proposal to decriminalize private
non-commercial oral and anal sex acts between consenting adults. Its already too
late for action on the measure during the remainder of the states current two-year
legislative session, since a deadline for non-budget bills to move from one chamber to the
other passed two weeks ago; the state Houses rejection last month of a bill to add
sexual orientation to the existing hate crimes law convinced supporters there was no hope
now for reform of the 200-year-old "crimes against nature" statute. But
Committee chair Senator Brad Miller (D-Wake) felt the measure deserved a hearing, although
several Senators on the Committee walked out. Among those testifying in support of the
measure was Methodist minister Jimmy Creech, who recently celebrated the union of a gay
male couple in North Carolina despite having barely been acquitted by a church court last
year for blessing a lesbian couple in Nebraska.
Violation of North Carolinas "crimes against nature" law is a felony
punishable by up to ten months in jail. The law applies even to married heterosexual
couples, leading the American Civil Liberties Unions Deborah Ross to remark that,
"More than half of North Carolinas adult population are felons. Many who are
not felons wish that they were." One prosecutor said police primarily use the charge
against those having sex in public places, although misdemeanor solicitation is used more
commonly even then; prosecutors sometimes use sodomy as an additional charge in sexual
assault cases. There were roughly 50 convictions under the law in 1998.
However, its less arrest and prosecution than the existence of the law which is
damaging to lesbians and gays. Kinnaird called it "an antiquated statute used to
discriminate ... against gay people." Creech said, "This law was designed from
the beginning to deny full civil rights to gay and lesbian persons," and compared the
statute to the "Jim Crow" laws that enforced racial segregation. Attorney and
former legislator Sharon Thompson described how gay and lesbian parents were denied
custody of their children because of the law, and added, "My clients are not worried
about getting arrested in a public park. They dont do that. They go to PTA
Speaking in defense of the existing law, North Carolina Family Policy Council head Bill
Brooks compared it to seatbelt requirements, as a measure designed to protect people. He
said, "The human body is not designed for homosexual acts. Its harmful to their
bodies. I think its the business of the government to hold up a standard and to
protect people from behavior that is harmful to themselves and society. It harms society
because it harms them. They are a part of society."
Reform supporters put a higher value on privacy, however. Libertarian Party state chair
Sean Haugh said, "What people do in the privacy of their homes is of absolutely no
interest to the General Assembly." Kinnaird said, "The point is that government
has no business in our bedroom. I dont want to know what anybody else does and I
assume that nobody else does." Committee member Senator Frank Ballance (D-Warren)
compared the reform proposal to the militarys so-called "dont ask,
dont tell" policy.
The two sides also differed as to the validity of the existing law. John Rustin, also
with the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said, "The courts have consistently
held that this is a criminal offense, a felony. The law goes back to English law, over 200
But Kinnaird said, "This law cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny,"
noting that similar laws have been struck down by the courts in several other states.
Attorney John Boddie, who said hes represented at least 100 people charged under the
law, said the only ones to actually be convicted were those who chose to plead guilty
rather than face the embarrassment of a trial. He called it "one of the silliest laws
on the books in North Carolina."
The Committee did not vote on the bill. The most that could happen at this time would
be its referral to a study commission. Repeated attempts to reform North Carolinas
law have failed since 1993, although Kinnaird said that similar laws have been repealed in
32 other states. Supporters of reform like Equality North Carolina understand that
theyre in it "for the long haul," although perhaps not for "another
generation," as Miller suggested. Meanwhile, Kinnaird said that reform opponents have
"burned up" her e-mail with their protests of her even introducing her bill.
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