Last edited: February 14, 2005


An Ever-Shifting Landscape

Washington Blade, February 13, 1998 (excerpt)

by M. Jane Taylor

Repealing sex as crime

Crime is also an issue for Gay activists in another way. Twenty states still have laws on the books that make it a crime for a person to engage in sex with a person of the same gender and/or to engage in certain forms of sex other than heterosexual intercourse. Six of those states criminalize sex between same-sex couples but not heterosexual couples: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, and Maryland. This year, sodomy reform bills are sitting in four statehouses: Minnesota, Georgia, Virginia, and Massachusetts. None has yet seen any action. The bills are not always introduced out of concern for the equal rights of Gay couples, however. For instance, a bill to repeal the sodomy statute in Georgia is sponsored by State Sen. Steve Langford, who, activists say, is registered as a Democrat but has strong Libertarian leanings.

"It’s coming from his desire to have less government legislation in people’s bedrooms, an although it benefits us as Gay people, it’s a different motivation," said Cindy Abel, executive director of the Georgia Equality Project. "It’s not necessarily because this guy is Gay-friendly."

Similarly, Minnesota’s sodomy reform bill, introduced in 1997 (the Minnesota legislature has two-year sessions), comes as part of a larger bill from the Senate Crime Prevention Committee to update the state criminal. It was unsolicited by Gay activists. According to Ken Backhus, Senate Counsel to the Crime Prevention Committee, the bill also seeks to strike other statutes that are of "questionable constitutional merit," such as adultery and flag burning laws.

The Massachusetts sodomy reform bill has been inactive since September 1997 (Massachusetts also has two-year legislative sessions) and is likely dead. While Gay activists are mobilizing to redraft the bill, they are divided over whether or not the redraft should include language dealing with people arrested for engaging in sex in public places.

Some activists said they feel this would be too big of a political risk.

"Connecting the issue with public sex would essentially kill our ability to repeal the sodomy laws," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Meanwhile, national pro-Gay organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund have been side-stepping the legislatures and mounting challenges to state sodomy laws on the judiciary front. Court battles for sodomy repeal are currently being waged in Maryland, Kansas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Puerto Rico.

Nicholas Boggs, Rhonda Smith, Kai Wright, and Christine Dinsmore contributed to this report.