Putting an End to Prying Into Private Lives
February 3, 2002
1150 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20071
By David Lampo
Virginia’s General Assembly has the opportunity to right a terrible wrong
this session: the ability of the commonwealth to pry into the private sexual
lives of its citizens.
Under Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature statute, it is a felony,
punishable by as many as five years in prison, for consenting adults to engage
in sodomy in private, including oral sex between husband and wife. Under a
bill just introduced in the House by James Dillard, a Republican delegate from
Fairfax County, these private sexual acts between consenting adults would no
longer be illegal. H.B. 1140 would remove all penalties for private sexual
acts between adults while increasing penalties for any sex acts committed in
The bill has been assigned to the House Courts of Justice Committee, where
it likely will be the subject of vigorous debate.
According to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Virginia is one
of only 13 states that still have such archaic laws on the books. It
stigmatizes not just those who are prosecuted but an entire class of people—namely,
gay men and lesbians—against whom the law primarily is used.
Sometimes convictions are used to deny child custody, as in 1995, when
Sharon Bottoms, a lesbian, was stripped of custody of her child based in part
on her having committed a felony by engaging in oral sex. Anyone, however, can
fall victim to the law, as in 1996, when a 20-year-old female University of
Virginia student was jailed and paid $6,000 in legal fees for a rendezvous
with a male friend.
Further, because those who apply for a professional license or fill out a
job application must indicate if they’ve been convicted of a felony, some
are forced to plea-bargain to lesser charges simply to avoid a felony
conviction on their record. Or they must perjure themselves in order to gain
Despite what its opponents will say, this bill has nothing to do with
children. It would apply only to consenting adults 18 years of age or older
and only to sexual acts in private. Engaging in public sex, now a misdemeanor,
would become a felony. It is therefore a bill perfectly consistent with the
time-honored Jeffersonian dictum, "That government is best which governs
least." Those Republicans who oppose this bill clearly betray the
fundamental principles of their party.
What’s more, Virginians seem to be ahead of their legislators on this
issue. In a Rasmussen Research poll of 965 likely voters released in January
2001, more than 65 percent of the participants said consenting adults should
be able to legally engage in oral sex in private. When asked how they would
view their own state representatives who voted for legislation permitting such
activity, only 11.7 percent said a vote in favor of the new law would make
them less likely to vote for their representative.
Even though the budget is understandably everyone’s priority this year,
it’s time to end the injustice of ruining people’s lives for their private
acts. It’s time for the General Assembly to adopt the common sense of the
average Virginian and vote for H.B. 1140.
- David Lampo is communications director for the Log Cabin Republican Club
of Virginia, an organization of gay and lesbian Republicans.
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