Anti-Sodomy Laws Should Be Killed
December 9, 2002
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
By Deb Price, The Detroit News
Driving the 720 miles from our home in Maryland to the Georgia home of my
partner Joyce’s younger sister felt like one seamless journey.
Much of what was visible from our car—the fast-food restaurants, chain
motels, gas stations and even the shrubs—looked so similar that I sometimes
lost track of our location. Were we still in Virginia or had we already
reached North Carolina or even South Carolina?
Despite the seeming sameness, the reality was that whenever we crossed an
invisible state line, our rights changed dramatically.
Joyce and I are a couple of 17 years, recognized by Vermont through our
civil union as the legal equivalent of a married heterosexual couple. But in
the five states we traveled through, we bounced in and out of being, in
essence, unconvicted felons. That’s because of the patchwork of state
anti-sodomy laws that—in the absence of a U.S. Supreme Court decision
nullifying them—remain in various stages of decay:
In Maryland, a court has declared the anti-sodomy statute there
unenforceable against adults engaged in private, consensual lovemaking.
Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina all have felony-level
anti-sodomy laws that technically apply to all couples. In reality, however,
police, judges and politicians routinely use these absurdly intrusive laws to
try to justify anti-gay discrimination.
They’re used, for example, as an excuse to deny gay and lesbian parents
custody, visitation and adoption rights, and to refuse to protect gay workers
from job discrimination.
Meanwhile in Georgia, the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that
state’s anti-sodomy law in its infamous 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick
ruling still casts a pall over gay Georgians’ push for equality. That’s
true even though Georgia’s own top court eventually had the courage to
strike down that misguided law.
As long as anti-sodomy or "crime against nature" laws exist
anywhere, they will hold back gay progress everywhere. As South Carolinian
Warren Gress of the Alliance for Full Acceptance says with frustration,
"We walk into brick wall after brick wall because so many people won’t
even listen because of the sodomy law. It always hangs in the
But our crazy-quilt country just might be on the verge of taking a giant
stride toward becoming a much more united nation in terms of treating gay
couples fairly and respectfully. In what feels like an early Christmas
present, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed Dec. 2 to hear a challenge to Texas’
anti-sodomy law, which applies only to same-sex couples.
In one bold and long-overdue move, our nation’s highest court could kick
out the ancient underpinnings of all discriminatory treatment against those of
us who’re gay. If the court strikes down all remaining anti-sodomy laws—14
states, including all of Michigan except Wayne County, still have enforceable
ones—gay Americans would still be a long distance from full equality. But we’d
suddenly be able to strive for progress without operating under the cloud of
When I talked to gay activists in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas,
Georgia and Michigan after my long car trip, they brightened at the prospect
of the U.S. Supreme Court casting all anti-sodomy laws into the dust bin of
history. "That would greatly enhance our ability to advance other
legislation, like non-discrimination and hate crimes laws," exclaimed Ian
Palmquist of Equality North Carolina.
The high court, of course, could rule narrowly, deciding only whether Texas
and the three other states (Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri) where sodomy is
legal for opposite-sex couples but for not same-same couples are violating the
Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.
The Supreme Court has been on a journey of sorts in recent years. Having
studied its route, I predict that by June the justices will at least say
states can’t have sex laws that treat gay couples differently.
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