Punish Public Sex, Not Private Sodomy
July 2, 1999
P. O. Box 2491, Roanoke, VA 24010
Neighbors and visitors to Roanoke's parks or any other public place, for that
matter should not be forced to tolerate lewd behavior.
That's why there are laws against indecent exposure, immoral conduct, prostitution and
the like. It's also why police had an obligation to respond last year to citizen
complaints of such behavior by gay men "cruising" in Wasena Park.
The troubling part is the nature of the charges that ensued from the police crackdown.
This week, in the first trial of a defendant who contested his prosecution, a Roanoke
man was convicted, fined $1,500 and sentenced to 60 days in jail not for publicly
lewd behavior, but for attempting to persuade an undercover officer to perform oral sex.
Earlier, 12 men had pleaded guilty to the same offense under an arrangement by which jail
sentences would be suspended and they could appeal the constitutionality of Virginia's
shaky anti-sodomy law to a higher court.
The choice of charges is not a trivially technical matter. By invoking the archaic
sodomy statute, the prosecution had to show only that the defendants were planning to
commit the so-called crime. They did not have to show what ought to matter from a police
viewpoint: whether it was to be committed in public.
Even more bizarrely, oral sex between consenting adults, even in private, is a felony
in Virginia, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, while misbehavior that the state
legitimately should prosecute crimes of public indecency is regarded as a
The General Assembly's failure to repeal the anti-sodomy statute is, of course, rank
hypocrisy. If the law were routinely and evenly enforced and it theoretically
applies to married heterosexual as much as to homosexual couples there'd be a
special legislative session tomorrow to ax it. No law can (or necessarily should) be
enforced all the time, but any law enforced so whimsically as this one ought to raise
suspicions from the start.
Moreover, its employment in the Wasena Park cases seriously confuses the issue, and
thereby weakens the message that the prosecutions should convey. The issue should be
whether sexual solicitations occurred in public and, if so and more seriously, whether
sexual acts were to, or did, occur in public. The public nature of such acts is all that
should be relevant.
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