Last edited: February 14, 2005

Finally Legal to Cruise in Ohio, May 18, 2002

ClevelandóThe Ohio Supreme Court has overturned a law used to arrest gays who try to pick up other men.

The law, called the "Importuning Act" made expressions of sexual interest between people of the same sex, if the other party objected, a crime.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the law violates the Equal Protection clauses of the United States and Ohio Constitutions.

Lambda Legal submitted a friend of the court brief with the Ohio Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers and the Ohio Human Rights Bar Association, arguing that the law violated guarantees of equal protection and free speech, and needed to be taken off the books.

Under the Ohio statute, it was a first-degree misdemeanour for someone to make a sexual advance toward a person of the same sex, should that advance be found offensive. The penalty could include up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The law covered advances that involve nothing more than words, but only if the words are directed at somebody of the same sex.

"This is a stark rejection of anti-gay discrimination in criminal laws. We donít throw men in jail for making passes at women, and there can be no double-standard for gay people doing the same thing," said Senior Staff Attorney Heather C. Sawyer of Lambda Legalís Midwest Regional Office, who authored the friend of the court brief.

The case 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 the police.

Thompson was charged and convicted of violating the importuning law and sentenced to six months in jail; he appealed.

The Stateís Eleventh District Court of Appeals found that the law violates equal protection rights, but it upheld the law and Thompsonís conviction based on a prior ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court.

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