Puerto Rico High Court to Review Sodomy Law
August 11, 2000
SAN JUANThe Puerto Rico Supreme Court on Friday opened
deliberations to determine whether the commonwealths sodomy law violates its
constitution and its declared commitment to defending the privacy of its citizens.
The American Civil Liberties Unions challenge to the law was dismissed by a lower
court earlier this year.
"Like all sodomy laws, this statute is unconstitutional," said Michael Adams
of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "While gay issues are new to this Supreme
Court, we are hopeful that Puerto Ricos long-standing cultural commitment to
individual privacy will prevail."
The court has never before addressed issues relating to the fair treatment of lesbian
and gay Puerto Ricans, but the ACLUs Adams notes the court recently ruled in favor
of a transgendered woman who sought to change the gender on her birth certificate.
Under the current law, any private, consensual sexual contact between people of the
same sex and anal sex between any adults is a felony, punishable by up to
$1,000 or 10 years in prison.
The ACLU repeal sought to remind justices that the Commonwealths Constitution
goes much further than the U.S. Constitution in explicitly protecting citizens
privacy. The lower courts dismissal of the case relied on Bowers v. Hardwick, a 1986
U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled sodomy laws were not an invasion of privacy.
"There is a myth in white communities particularly among white gay people
that all Spanish-speaking cultures are too homophobic to treat people fairly,"
said Janice Gutierrez-Lacourt, Executive Director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. "Many
people here in Puerto Rico disapprove of lesbians and gay men. But Puerto Ricans place an
extraordinary value on personal privacy which this sodomy law directly
Gutierrez-Lacourt said the sodomy law "is a clear danger to every lesbian and gay
man in Puerto Rico" and guidance from the court is needed. She pointed to a recent
appellate court decision that threw out a domestic violence case involving a gay male
couple because the sodomy statutes "makes homosexual conduct a crime."
Eighteen states and Puerto Rico still have sodomy laws on their books. The ACLU
argument that criminalizing private, consensual, non-commercial intimacy between adults is
unconstitutional has proven successful in several states, overturning sodomy laws in
Maryland, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee and Kentucky.
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