Citing Threats, Intimidation and Clear Danger to Citizens, ACLU Presses
Forward to Repeal Puerto Ricos Sodomy Law
For Immediate Release, May 22, 2000
American Civil Liberties Union
ACLU Lesbian And Gay Rights Project/AIDS Project
Contact: Eric Ferrero,
ACLU (212) 549-2568
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - Opening a new front in its battle against one of
the countrys starkest examples of the dangers of discriminatory sodomy laws, the
American Civil Liberties Union today asked an appellate court to reconsider its ruling
dismissing a massive legal challenge to Puerto Ricos anti-gay "crime against
Also today, ACLU attorneys said they would "take whatever steps necessary" to
eliminate the law, vowing to appeal the case to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court if the lower
court does not reverse itself.
"From time to time, we see deeply misguided decisions like this. In this
particular case, the courts decision isnt just conservative interpretation of
the law - its legally inaccurate and incorrect," said Michael Adams, Associate
Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and the lead attorney in the case.
"We will take whatever steps necessary to repeal this law, but first we want to give
the appellate court another chance to look at it."
In a split decision, the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals dismissed the ACLUs
challenge to the sodomy law, saying no citizens could show that they are directly impacted
by it. The 2-1 majority decision also said citizens constitutional rights are not
jeopardized by Puerto Ricos sodomy law.
"Many of us were particularly baffled by the notion that Puerto Ricos sodomy
law does not directly affect our people," said Janice Gutierez Lacourt, Executive
Director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. "In fact, this law is a clear danger to every
lesbian and gay man in Puerto Rico."
Last year, another Puerto Rico appellate court made that clear in a seemingly unrelated
case, Adams said. In a domestic violence case involving a gay male couple, the court ruled
that Puerto Ricos law on domestic violence did not apply to lesbians and gay men,
since the sodomy statute "makes homosexual conduct a crime."
In another example cited by the ACLU, the sodomy statute was used to threaten Rev.
Margarita Sanchez while she was testifying about an anti-gay bill before the Puerto Rico
legislature. That threat was followed by an announcement from the Puerto Rico Department
of Justice that officials intended to enforce the sodomy law if police brought them
evidence of violations. Rev. Sanchez is now the lead plaintiff in the ACLUs
challenge to Puerto Ricos sodomy law.
Puerto Ricos sodomy law illustrates the potential danger of other such laws
nationwide, Adams said. "Many people - gay and straight - have this idea that sodomy
laws are just really old legal codes that exist in name only. In fact, we regularly work
with people who have been arrested or threatened with arrest, as well as people who have
lost their jobs and their children because they are technically felons in states with
sodomy laws," Adams said.
In addition to Puerto Rico, 18 states have sodomy laws. The specific natures of the
laws vary, as do punishments. Under Puerto Ricos law, private, consensual sexual
intercourse between people of the same sex - as well as private, consensual anal sex,
regardless of whether it is homosexual or heterosexual - is a felony, punishable by up to
$1,000 or 10 years in prison.
The ACLU lawsuit was filed in 1998 on behalf of Rev. Sanchez and five other lesbian and
gay Puerto Ricans. The ACLU also appeared as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, on behalf of its
grassroots members in Puerto Rico who are lesbian, gay and straight.
Puerto Ricos sodomy law violates the commonwealth and federal constitutions by
criminalizing private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy between adults, the ACLU
lawsuit contends. This ACLU argument has proven successful in court challenges to sodomy
laws in several states in recent years, including those in Maryland, Georgia, Montana,
Tennessee and Kentucky.
Last month, the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project urged the Louisiana Supreme Court
to overturn that states sodomy law. A decision in that case (Smith v. Louisiana)
is expected soon. This summer, the ACLU will file a lawsuit seeking to overturn
Minnesotas sodomy law, which criminalizes private, consensual, non-commercial
intimacy for heterosexual and gay adults.
In-depth information on the history of sodomy laws - and on current laws in each state
- is available on the ACLUs web site, www.aclu.org.
The Puerto Rico case is Sanchez, et al. v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In
addition to Adams, Charles Hey Maestre and Nora Vargas Acosta, both of San Juan, are
attorneys in the case.
Eric Ferrero, Public Education Director
The American Civil Liberties Union
Lesbian and Gay Rights Project/AIDS Project 125 Broad St., 18th Floor
New York, NY 10004-2400
Tel: 212-549-2568; Fax: 212-549-2650
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