Equality Virginia Applauds Supreme Court’s Decision to Hear Texas Sodomy
Decision May Result in Virginia’s Sodomy Law Being Declared
Unconstitutional, Says Equality Virginia
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
"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
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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