Last edited: January 04, 2005

Panel: Strike Sodomy Statutes

Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 17, 2003
Box 85333, Richmond, VA, 23293-0001
Fax: 804-775-8072 or 775-8090

By Tyler Whitley, Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

A State Crime Commission subcommittee voted with little debate yesterday to recommend that the state change its sodomy laws to conform with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“The Texas sodomy case was a clear ruling, like it or not,” said Del. Robert F. McDonnell, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the subcommittee. “We can’t have the Virginia militia march on the Supreme Court in Washington” to undo the ruling, he added.

Del. H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, the House of Delegates majority leader, voiced objections.

“I don’t agree with the Supreme Court’s opinion,” he said. “We ought not to take it off the books.”

McDonnell suggested that the subcommittee, which is revising the state’s criminal code, address merely the legal aspects of the ruling, not the policy. The subcommittee has a responsibility to recommend changes to state laws that have been found to be unconstitutional, whether or not the General Assembly goes along with those recommendations, he said.

Several members suggested that the General Assembly might not.

In its recent ruling, the Supreme Court overturned a Texas statute that made homosexual sodomy in a private home a crime.

Stewart Petoe, director of legal affairs for the crime commission, said the state’s crimes-against-nature, or sodomy, statute and its fornication statute which forbids sex between unmarried persons are probably unconstitutional. Less clear is whether statutes banning cohabitation and adultery are also unconstitutional, he said.

At the suggestion of committee member Lane Kneedler the subcommittee recommended that the sodomy, cohabitation and adultery statutes be kept on the books but amended to make sure the illegality applies to public behavior and not private behavior. The subcommittee recommended that the fornication statute be repealed.

“The Supreme Court left us the ability to criminalize such behavior in public places,” Court of Appeals Judge Robert J. Humphreys said.

The subcommittee’s recommendations will be presented later this year to the full crime commission.

McDonnell, who is seeking the GOP nomination to run for attorney general, drew criticism from gay rights activists this year when he suggested that homosexual or lesbian behavior might disqualify a person from serving as a judge in Virginia because such behavior is against the law.

Asked by a reporter if he had ever violated the sodomy statute, McDonnell said, “Not that I can recall.”

McDonnell said later that he had responded inartfully to a reporter’s question.

He emphasized early in the meeting yesterday that the subcommittee should take up the sodomy statute quickly and move on to other business. It did, moving on to discussion of robbery and burglary laws.

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