Last edited: February 14, 2005

Anti-Sodomy Laws Should Be Killed

Detroit News, December 9, 2002
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
Fax: 313-222-6417

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 background."

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 presumed criminality.

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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