Lambda Urges Ohio Supreme Court to Strike Down Law Banning Same-Sex Flirting
Lambda Legal Defense
and Education Fund, May 1, 2001
CHICAGO Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
has joined forces with the Ashtabula County Public Defender to urge the Ohio
Supreme Court to review a case challenging the states importuning law, which
criminalizes expressions of sexual interest between people of the same sex.
Joined in its amicus brief by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
and the Ohio Human Rights Bar Association, Lambda argues that the law violates
guarantees of equal protection and free speech, and should be struck down.
This law condemns lesbians and gay men for the mere expression of romantic
or sexual attraction, said Senior Staff Attorney Heather C. Sawyer of Lambdas
Midwest Regional Office. Despite more common street harassment of women by
men, the State doesnt regulate similar behavior between persons of opposite
sexes. Its decision to single out same-sex solicitation fosters hostility and
discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
She added, This irrational law harms gay people who may serve time in jail,
lose their jobs, professional licenses, even friends and family relationships
if arrested or convicted under this statute. Simple speech should not bring
such harsh consequences.
Under the Ohio statute, it is a first-degree misdemeanor for someone to
make a sexual advance toward a person of the same sex, should that advance be
found offensive. The penalty can include up to six months in jail and a fine
of up to $1,000. The law covers advances that involve nothing more than words,
but only if the words are directed at somebody of the same sex.
When an unwanted sexual advance becomes physical or escalates to disorderly
conduct, the State has laws that appropriately apply to non-gay and gay people
alike, noted Sawyer.
In contrast with the harsher importuning statute, disorderly conduct can
bring a fine of no more than $100 and no jail time.
The case, State of Ohio v. Thompson, stems from the conviction of a
man who made passes at a male jogger. When the jogger asked to be left alone,
Thompson complied, but the jogger then complained to police. Thompson was
charged and convicted with violating the importuning law and sentenced to six
months in jail; he appealed. The States Eleventh District Court of Appeals
found that Ohios same-sex importuning law violates the equal protection
clause, but it upheld the law and Thompsons conviction based on a prior
ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court.
Lambdas amicus brief supports the request for Supreme Court review filed by
Ashtabula County Public Defender, Marie Lane, who represented Thompson at
trial and on appeal.
In response to the requests for review from Lambda and the Public Defender,
the State of Ohio also has called on its Supreme Court to take up this case to
determine if the law violates Ohioans equal protection rights or more fully
explain why the statute does not violate the equal protection clauses under
the United States and Ohio Constitutions.
Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil
rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. Lambda has its
headquarters in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and
Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.
(State of Ohio v. Thompson, No. 01-333)
120 Wall Street, Suite 1500
New York, NY 10005-3904
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