Last edited: February 14, 2005

Equality Virginia Applauds Supreme Court’s Decision to Hear Texas Sodomy Case

Decision May Result in Virginia’s Sodomy Law Being Declared Unconstitutional, Says Equality Virginia

Equality Virginia, December 2, 2002

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA—Equality Virginia praised a decision by the United States Supreme Court today to hear a case that could lead to sodomy laws being ruled discriminatory and unconstitutional. It has been 16 years since the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws, but changes in the court and developments in equal protection law could play a role in overturning these invasive laws that fly in the face of the long recognized right of every American to privacy, says Equality Virginia.

Virginia is one of the remaining states that has a sodomy law on its books. Under that law, it is a felony—punishable by incarceration for up to five years—for two consenting adults to engage in certain forms of consensual sexual activity, including oral sex between a man and woman in the privacy of their own home," says attorney Joseph Price, Chair of Equality Virginia. "Virginia’s sodomy law applies to both gay and heterosexual couples and is an inexcusable intrusion of the state into the most private and intimate interests of our citizens."

"No legitimate government interest is served by the Commonwealth of Virginia telling its citizens what private noncommercial sexual conduct consenting adults can engage in. Other Virginia laws already criminalize public indecency and commercial sexual activity," says Price. "Virginia’s sodomy law is also unfairly applied by law enforcement and the judicial system to discriminate against gay and lesbian Virginians in a number of ways," said Price. "The law is often used by homophobic judges to deny basic parental rights to gay and lesbian Virginians. Those judges find that because the parent is gay or lesbian, the parent must be engaging in the criminal activity of sodomy and therefore, the parent is unfit to have custody or visitation with the parent’s own child."

"Equality Virginia commends the Supreme Court’s decision and we hope this decision will put an end to Virginia’s sodomy statute and finally end this type of state-sanctioned discrimination and prosecution of gays and lesbians in Virginia and in other states."

The case the Supreme Court agreed to hear is Lawrence v. Texas. In 1998, Houston police broke into John Lawrence’s apartment shortly before midnight seeking an armed intruder. Instead, they saw Lawrence having sex with Tyron Garner and jailed both men on a state law that bans sex between consenting adults of the same sex—but not of the opposite sex. Lawrence and Garner pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and were each fined $200. The state courts upheld the conviction, which if allowed to stand could potentially harm the lives of both men. Lambda Legal asked the Supreme Court in July to hear the case and declare a violation of privacy and equal protection.

"As a result of there convictions, neither John nor Tyron can be employed in numerous professions in Texas. In addition, they may have to register as sex offenders if they move to certain other states," said Price. "These horrendous sanctions for private consensual sexual activity are a violation of every person’s fundamental right to be free from unnecessary—and in this case discriminatory and harmful—government intrusion."

In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld sodomy laws 5-4 in Bowers v. Hardwick. Since the ruling, much has changed, including the fact that only three justices of that ruling remain on the bench. In 1996, today’s Supreme Court struck down an anti-gay amendment to Colorado’s Constitution on equal protection principles. Additionally, since Bowers v. Hardwick, the number of state sodomy laws has declined from 28 to 14, in large part because of the persistent court efforts of Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as state organizations, like Equality Virginia, fighting to overturn these laws.

Equality Virginia is a state-wide gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered advocacy organization seeking equality for all Virginians.

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