Last edited: February 14, 2005

Sodomy Law Bedevils Virginia Confirmation

The Data Lounge, January 15, 2003

RICHMOND, Va.—An influential Virginia lawmaker said on Tuesday that engaging in anal or oral sex might disqualify a person from being a judge in the Commonwealth because both activities violate state law. The Daily Press reports Republican Del. Robert F. McDonnell, chairman of the Virginia’s House Courts of Justice Committee, also said that while such behavior alone would not disqualify someone from being a judge, "It certainly raises some questions about the qualifications to serve as a judge."

Virginia’s "crimes against nature" law bans all oral and anal sex regardless of the gender of the parties involved. It has been criticized as an antiquated statute that intrudes into private lives and that is likely to be used only against gay people.

Repeated attempts to repeal the law have failed.

McDonnell’s comments touched off a firestorm of criticism from legal scholars and gay civil rights activists, who have been deeply agitated over questions regarding the reappointment of Newport News Circuit Judge Verbena Askew.

The controversy over Askew concerns a sexual-harassment complaint, which was settled out-of-court for $75,000. The agreement, reached between the city of Hampton, which employed Askew, and a woman Askew used to supervise, said the city was not admitting the woman’s claims were true.

McDonnell’s House committee must endorse Askew for reappointment if she is to serve a second eight-year term.

Askew has so far refused to answer reporters as to whether she has ever violated the crimes against nature law. In response to the same question, McDonnell said, "Not that I can recall," but stressed the activity is illegal and judges must be expected to obey the law.

"There is certain homosexual conduct that is in violation of the law," McDonnell said. "I’m not telling you I would disqualify a judge per se if he said he was gay. I’m talking about their actions."

When asked what he knew of Askew, McDonnell replied: "I have no direct evidence of her sexual orientation other than innuendo in the community and the sexual-harassment complaint."

Michael Adams, attorney for Lambda Legal said the incident "is one more example of how these unconstitutional laws are used to mistreat people."

Adams added that the controversy did not hinge on law. "It has never been the case that anybody who might break the law is not fit to serve as a judge," he said, using speeding tickets as an example. "This is not about that law. This is about discrimination against gay people."

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