Last edited: February 14, 2005

More Sodomy Laws on the Way Out

Bay Area Reporter, May 31, 2001

By Liz Highleyman

In May, sodomy laws in three states received a blow, clearing the way for freedom of sexual expression between consenting adults.

In Arizona, Governor Jane Hull signed a bill on May 8 repealing that state’s 1901 sodomy law, which had banned oral and anal sex; the new bill also allows cohabitation of unmarried partners and allows opposite-sex partners to claim domestic partner status for certain purposes.

Hull’s actions came as a surprise to many repeal proponents after the governor received a barrage of phone calls, e-mails, and letters from conservative constituents demanding that she not sign the bill. Hull’s office received some 6,000 calls and letters opposing sodomy law repeal, compared to 3,600 supportive calls and letters.

"At the end of the day, I returned to one of my most basic beliefs about government — it does not belong in our private lives," declared Hull. "Keeping archaic laws on the books does not promote high moral standards; instead, it teaches the lesson that laws are made to be broken."

The bill, promoted by openly gay Representative Steve May, had previously been blocked several times by legislators, but passed this year after being presented as tax-related legislation.

Not surprisingly, reactions to Hull’s signing were mixed. Said Susan Wright of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, "As one of the millions of Americans who is scared and disturbed by the growing crusade of a small minority who are attempting impose their sexual values on the rest of us, I am thrilled to see that Governor Hull for one has the courage to stand up to this minority and for the basic right of privacy."

According to Republican state Senator David Peterson, "This sends us down the track that says there’s no difference between marriage and cohabitation. The track can lead to San Francisco, where health benefits pay for sex changes." Peterson has threatened to bring the new law before the voters in a referendum.

In related news, On May 14 the Louisiana House approved legislation that would do away with that state’s "crimes against nature" law banning oral and anal sex between consenting adults. The new bill would add a sentence that reads, "sexual acts committed by and between consenting adults in private shall not be deemed as a crime against nature."

Earlier this year a judge in New Orleans barred enforcement of the sodomy law because it violates the constitutional right to privacy. The state appealed this ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which upheld the law once before. In addition, the Louisiana Electorate of Gay and Lesbians brought a suit against the law because it discriminates against gay men and lesbians. Although the law bans sodomy between partners of any gender, LEGAL attorney John Rawls claimed that gays and lesbians are more affected because the law "denies [same-sex partners] the right to have sex under any circumstances."

Finally, on May 18, a Minnesota state court judge struck down a state sodomy law prohibiting oral and anal sex between partners of any gender. Judge Delila Pierce ruled against the law, saying it was "unconstitutional, as applied to private, consensual, non-commercial acts of sodomy by consenting adults, because it violates the right of privacy guaranteed by the Minnesota Constitution."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the law on behalf of a group of citizens who believe they are unfairly targeted by the law, including a married quadriplegic man who can only engage in sexual activities banned under the sodomy law, a married elementary school teacher concerned because teachers can lose their credentials if they violate state law, a lesbian attorney and a gay law student who argued that they face eviction because their leases prohibit illegal activity, and a divorced gay man concerned about losing custody of his children.

According to ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project director Matt Coles, "This is a tremendous victory because of what sodomy laws do, but also because of what they say. Sodomy laws, because they are understood to primarily apply to lesbians and gay men, marginalize gay people and their pursuit of equal citizenship."

ACLU representatives are concerned that Governor Jesse Ventura’s administration may attempt to argue that the legal decision applies only to the current plaintiffs, and are urging that the ruling be certified as a class action case that applies to all Minnesotans.

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