Anti-Sodomy Laws Stigmatize All Gays
May 22, 2000
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
By Deb Price / The Detroit News
When the Rev. Margarita Sanchez testified in the Puerto Rican legislature against an
anti-gay proposal, a hostile legislator demanded to know whether shes a lesbian.
When Sanchez answered yes, she found herself threatened with arrest under the
commonwealths sodomy law, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Sanchezs experience is but one outrageous example of how sodomy laws are used to
stigmatize all gay Americans as criminals and to impede our progress toward full equality.
Still on the books in 18 states, Puerto Rico and the military, these barbaric restrictions
on private, consensual sex are an international embarrassment to the United States.
"The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has no business in my bedroom," stresses
Sanchez, a Protestant minister in a long-term relationship.
Sodomy laws which generally apply to everyone, straight or gay rarely
land anyone in prison. Instead, they provide a handy weapon for anti-gay extremists
whenever they want to try to frighten us back into the closet, threaten us with the loss
of child custody or block our legal progress. These laws taint all gays, even those in
states without sodomy laws, and provide the legal and cultural underpinnings of all
With the help of people like Sanchez, these backward laws are headed toward extinction.
Eight states have gotten rid of them in just the last eight years. Now, a new wave of six
challenges looks promising:
- Puerto Rico: The Court of Appeals is expected to rule shortly on whether the challenge
filed by Sanchez, her partner and four other Puerto Ricans can proceed to trial. A lower
court scoffed at the governments claim that the statutes existence
doesnt harm anyone.
- Texas: Any day now, a state court of appeals will rule in a case involving two men
arrested for having consensual sex at home. The constitutionality of Texas gay-only
sodomy law is being challenged.
- Louisiana: The state Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments over whether it should
strike down the 195-year-old law that makes oral or anal sex a felony punishable by up to
five years in prison.
- Virginia: Police stings in public parks led to gay men being arrested for discussing
oral sex. The arrests opened the door to a broad sodomy law challenge.
- Minnesota: Within weeks, the American Civil Liberties Union will file a suit charging
that the sodomy law violates the state constitutions privacy protections.
- Arkansas: Several gay people, none of whom has been arrested, are challenging their
states same-sex sodomy law for unfairly casting them as criminals. An initial ruling
is expected by fall.
The U.S. Supreme Courts 1986 failure to strike down sodomy laws nationwide has
necessitated todays expensive, state-by-state effort. Five states have same-sex-only
sodomy laws: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. Sodomy laws apply to everyone
in the military, Puerto Rico and 13 states: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and
Virginia. (Removing the militarys sodomy ban would take an act of Congress.)
The states with the toughest maximum punishments are Idaho, five years to life;
Massachusetts, 20 years; and Michigan, 15 years for first conviction, life imprisonment
thereafter (which cannot be enforced in Wayne County). Three out of four American adults
have engaged in oral sex, studies have found.
A free country is no place for laws that serve no legitimate purpose. Lets get
them off the books.
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