Last edited: February 14, 2005

Putting an End to Prying Into Private Lives

Washington Post, 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 public.

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 employment.

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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