Why We Should Get Rid of Sodomy Laws
Scripps Howard, December 6, 1998
By Matthew Coles, Director of the Lesbian and Gay Rights Project for the American Civil
Contrary to what many people may believe, laws that make certain kinds of private
sexual intimacy a crime are no historic curiosity. They continue to play havoc with the
lives of real people every day. And these days, the people are mostly lesbians and gay
men. Consider these recent incidents:
In Georgia, Robin Shahar, an honors graduate of Emory Law School, lost her job with the
Georgia Attorney Generals office when they learned she had a private commitment
ceremony with the woman she loved. The official reason? Her relationship was
"inconsistent" with Georgias sodomy law.
When Rev. Margarita Sanchez appeared before the Puerto Rico legislature earlier this
year to testify on a bill, she was asked if she was a lesbian. When she answered
"yes," a committee member said they could have her arrested because she was a
criminal under the Commonwealths law banning "the crime against nature."
David W. had a steady job, a healthy income and a nice home near good schools for his
14-year-old son Paul. His ex-wife was in an abusive relationship with a convicted felon
who beat her so badly that Paul had to call the police. But the court awarded custody to
Pauls mother, because, a judge ruled, David is gay and the states sodomy law
made him a criminal. Even harmless but racy conversations let alone acts in the
bedroom can result in arrests when engaged in by two men or two women.
Sodomy laws were once part of a collection of laws that prohibit every form of sexual
activity except for sex aimed at reproduction as a part of marriage. There were laws
against birth control, cohabitation, adultery, and fornication. None of these laws
including the sodomy laws applied just to lesbians and gay men. They applied to
For the most part, American society has now decided that government should not tell two
adults whether they can be intimate with each other, or what they are allowed to do if
they are intimate.
Starting in the 1960s, many states repealed their sodomy laws or stopped using them.
However, some specifically made intimacy among lesbians and gay men a crime, and others
started treating their old sodomy laws as if they applied only to gay people.
Folks like Cathie Adams at the Eagle Forum may tell you that there is a moral issue at
stake here. And there is: the morality of a country that was founded on the principle that
all people were created equal. If the government does not belong in the bedrooms of
Americas heterosexual majority, it does not belong in the bedrooms of its lesbian,
gay and bisexual minority either.
Courts and legislatures have begun to agree. Earlier this year, the Rhode Island
legislature repealed its sodomy law. The Nevada legislature did the same in 1993 and
D.C.s law fell the year before. [DCs law fell a few months after the Nevada
law in 1993. rjs] Just last month, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned that
states ban on sodomy one year too late to save Robin Shahars job. In
October, a court in Maryland said no to a state law banning private oral sex. The Supreme
Court of Montana struck down its sodomy law last year, the courts in Tennessee struck down
that states law in 1996, and the Kentucky court struck its law in 1992.
Despite this progress, sodomy laws are still on the books in 19 states. And just weeks
ago, police charged into the bedroom of a gay couple in Texas and arrested them for
We should have one set of rules for everyone. Its way past time to update all of
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