Changes Sought in State Sex Law
& Record, March 9, 2001
P. O. Box 20848, Greensboro, NC 27420
By Eric Dyer, Raleigh Bureau, News & Record
RALEIGHStraight or gay, adults
who engage in oral or anal sex in North Carolina are breaking the law, even if
the act occurs behind closed doors.
Some argue the states sodomy statute is puritanical, antiquated and
silly. Yet past efforts to weaken or repeal it have gone nowhere in the
General Assembly, where talk about sex seems taboo.
Even so, a push is again under way to amend the law, with proponents saying
they hope to persuade legislators that their intent is to safeguard personal
freedom rather than to condone any sexual practice.
"There is a basic right to privacy that this law violates," said
Jo Wyrick, executive director of Equality NC, a lobbying group for lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender issues. "... I think most people take the
attitude that what other people do in their own homes is their own
Conservative groups contend the sodomy, or crimes against nature, law
appropriately reflects societal sexual mores and should be left alone.
A measure introduced last week in the state Senate would exempt consenting
adults from the law, as long as the acts are not for hire or done in public.
The proposed bill would leave the sodomy law on the books because it is
used to prosecute other behaviors such as public sex, prostitution and
bestialityacts that opponents of the sodomy law do not wish to endorse.
"Your home is your castle, and you should be able to have private
business within your castle," said state Sen. Jeanne Lucas, D-Durham, a
co-sponsor of the Sexual Privacy Act. "Youre not hurting anybody. You
are doing what pleases you."
The bills primary sponsor, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, said the current crimes
against nature law was a "government stamp of authority" that
"lawless people" use to justify harassing lesbians and gay men.
"Why should we criminalize behavior thats nobodys business but
their own?" said Kinnaird, D-Orange, whose district includes eastern
The North Carolina law, which traces back to 16th century England under
King Henry VIII, is not unique.
Every state in the nation had sodomy statutes until about 40 years ago,
although a majority have been repealed or struck down in court since then.
Four states still have laws in place that ban oral and anal sex
specifically between people of the same gender, regardless of consent,
according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay and lesbian
civil rights organization based in New York. Twelve states, including the
Carolinas and Virginia, condemn the sexual practices between heterosexuals and
homosexuals, the group says.
Lambda and other gay-rights groups largely have been responsible for
challenges to sodomy laws across the country. In North Carolina, about 75 gay
activists visited the legislature Thursday, in part to build support for
revising the crimes against nature law. They talked with lawmakers and held a
noontime rally in front of the Legislative Building.
Wyrick, the Equality NC director, said while the statute theoretically
applies both to gay and straight adults, it often is used to discriminate
against homosexuals. For example, landlords might deny housing and hotels
refuse to serve gay couples on the basis that state law forbids them from
aiding and abetting a felony, she said.
Conservatives have opposed moves to get rid of sodomy laws in other states,
saying government has a responsibility to set standards of conduct.
John Rustin of the N.C. Family Policy Council said a weakened sodomy law
would contradict measures the General Assembly passed five years ago banning
same-sex unions and requiring that public schools teach abstinence before
marriage. He also said case law had established that the sodomy law did not
apply to married couples.
"It is an attempt by promoters of the homosexual lifestyle to get a
foothold in state law for their behavior," Rustin said.
Violation of the sodomy law is a felony punishable by just over a year in
prison, officials said.
People are charged with the offense. According to the N.C. Administrative
Office of the Courts, trial-level judges statewide heard 379 cases last year
that involved a breach of the crimes against nature law. Another 101 cases
concerned attempted violations of the statute, a misdemeanor.
What acts were covered in those cases were not spelled out in the state
Al Hubbard, an assistant district attorney in Guilford County who handles
sex crimes, said law enforcement often uses the law against people soliciting
or having sex in public park but rarely, if ever, on matters of private
"Its something you dont see much used with two individuals in
their bedrooms," Hubbard added. He noted that while North Carolina law
also makes sexual intercourse between unmarried people a misdemeanor, "I
havent seen that gone after."
The measure has been referred to a Senate committee, where similar bills
have died in recent years. No hearing has been scheduled.
"It will be discussed again. The question is, are they going to vote
on it?" said Deborah Ross, executive director of the American Civil
Liberties Union state affiliate.
She says that is unlikely.
"Its the sex part," Ross explained. "(Lawmakers) are
afraid of what could happen in an election because it could be portrayed in
unfavorable ways in an eight-second sound bite."
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