States Ease Registration Laws That Swept Up Gays
The American Civil Liberties Union,
November 26, 1997
WASHINGTON - Initially designed to target sex offenders who have abused
children, new laws requiring that sex offenders be registered and that their names,
addresses, and other information about them be available to the public often have a much
broader sweep, the Washington Blade reports.
Caught in their net has been an undetermined number of gay men forced to register due
to sometimes decades old arrests, or for more recent consensual adult gay sex.
But the Blade reports that the threat to privacy and community standing was eased for
men in two states; California and Massachusetts.
A legislative victory by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California
allows for the exemption of individuals convicted of consensual gay sex from registration
"Gay men," said the ACLUs Elizabeth Schroeder, "no longer face the
indignity of having to undergo annual registration as sex offenders, forced to submit
fingerprints and photographs to the police like common criminals. They will no longer live
in fear that neighbors will shun them by mistakenly lumping gays convicted under outdated
laws with felons convicted of child molestation and rape."
And the Blade says that Massachusettss highest court unanimously ruled that a provision
in state law requiring automatic registration of low-level offenders was unconstitutional.
The ACLU of Southern California was alerted to the problem when a gay man wrote
complaining that the Los Angeles Police Department had ordered him to register as a
"sex offender" because of a 1956 arrest for consensual sex.
Kelli Evans, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, said the recent
legislation was "especially important for gay men who have been unjustly targeted by
repressive laws for so many years.
"Although the laws under which these men were convicted were struck down decades
ago, the men were still in jeopardy of being stigmatized as sex offenders," Evans
told the Blade. "Hopefully they will now be protected from being swept up by the
unduly broad brush of sex offender registration laws."
In Massachusetts, like California, the sexual registration and notification laws are
retroactive to past offenses. The "John Doe" who sued had been arrested in 1990
in a rest area, after approaching a man standing in the woods. Doe, who has already paid a
fine and completed his probation, maintains that if he is forced to register and his
record is available to the public, he will become a "social pariah."
Massachusettss Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the sex offender law violates the
state Constitutions due process guarantee and must be predicated on evidence of an
offenders future threat to the community to justify registration and disclosure.
Matt Coles, Director of the ACLUs Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, told the Blade that
he remained concerned by the possibility that states that still have sodomy laws may make
private, consensual gay sex a registrable offense.
"Federal law requires that you make a felony sexual assault or sexual crimes
involving children registrable," Coles said, "but it doesnt say that you cant
make other crimes registrable."
In September, the ACLU backed a bill introduced by Rep. Charles Schumer, D-NY, to
penalize states if they register as sex offenders people convicted solely of consensual
sodomy and similar offenses.
The measure failed in the House Judiciary Committee on a party line vote, with
Democrats voting for it and Republicans against. But Christopher Anders, legislative
counsel for the ACLU, said he was encouraged by the fact that Republicans used states
rights rather than anti-gay arguments in opposing the measure, saying states should be
able to decide what crimes to register.
"It was a good, civil debate," Anders told the Blade, "and I think it
pointed out the strength of the fairness argument that the Democrats were raising."
Source: The Washington Blade, November 21,
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