Last edited: December 05, 2004

Privacy, Please

Kill the sodomy law

The Virginian-Pilot, December 3, 1998
P.O. Box 449, Norfolk, VA 23501-0449
Fax 757 446-2051

What Georgia's high court has done for that state, Virginia's legislature ought to do for the commonwealth, and soon: Get government out of the bedroom.

In particular, get rid of Virginia's antiquated, pernicious anti-sodomy law.

Georgia's Supreme Court last week struck down that state's 156-year-old "crimes against nature" statute. Writing for a 6-1 majority, Chief Justice Robert Benham put the matter just right:

"We cannot think of any other activity that reasonable persons would rank as more private and more deserving of protection from governmental interference than consensual, private, adult sexual activity."

The issue, in other words, isn't what one thinks of sodomy, legally defined as oral or anal sex. It isn't whether you find the practice immoral or unseemly.

The issue, is whether government is justified in arresting and prosecuting adults for engaging, privately, in a particular form of consensual sex.

Keep in mind: In Viriginia as in Georgia, the sodomy law proscribes as felony not just homosexual activity. It also forbids heterosexuals, including married couples, from committing oral sex.

So Virginian criminals must number in the millions. And one has to wonder how many state lawmakers and judges are, under the statute, wanton felons.

That the law is enforced almost exclusively against homosexuals only makes it worse -- that is discriminatory.

In Virginia, police use it to support "solicitation" arrests. Homosexuals are prosecuted for inviting sex -- in private conversations, with no intent of exchanging money. The criminalization of sodomy allows them to be charged with "soliciting a felony."

Meanwhile, there is no record of men arrested in bars or other establishments for propositioning women to engage in activities that might include oral sex.

The statute clearly stigmatizes gays and lesbians. In Virginia, it has provided grounds for denying child custody, visitation rights, and ultimately, equal treatment under the law.

Yet, as an infringement by intrusive government, it insults and threatens not just homosexuals but all Virginians.

Legal interpretations of Virginia's constitution haven't spawned a tradition of privacy protections, such as Georgia enjoys. But the sodomy law's removal needn't wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to come to its senses. Virginia lawmakers can take it upon themselves to kill the thing.

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