Last edited: November 05, 2003

Virginia to Try 26 for Sodomy Despite Supreme Court, August 19, 2003

By Doreen Brandt, Newscenter, Washington Bureau

Harrisonburg, Virginia—26 men arrested for having sex in a Harrisonburg, Virginia adult bookstore will be tried on sodomy charges despite a US Supreme Court ruling in June striking down the laws.

The men were indicted July 21, about a month after the Supreme Court ruling. Police said the arrests followed a three-month investigation into goings on at the bookstore.

Through a spokesperson Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said the court ruling only applies to sex acts in private. Kilgore believes the Supreme Court decision does not preclude prosecutions for public sodomy or solicitation to commit sodomy.

Harrisonburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst said the men who were arrested were not targeted because they are gay. Police would have cracked down on the activity just as strongly had heterosexuals been having sex in a public place such as a bookstore, she said.

Garst could not cite any instances where heterosexuals have been charged under the law since the Supreme Court ruling.

Many legal experts say the state is skating on thin ice. Virginia’s “Crimes Against Nature” statute, does not distinguish between public and private activity. Lawyers say that in light of the Supreme Court ruling the state law, as it is written, is unenforceable even against public sodomy.

Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, told the Roanoke Times, “Our interpretation is that any charges under the sodomy law are invalid at this point.” Other misdemeanor charges were available to the police, he said, including lewd and lascivious cohabitation, obscene exhibitions and indecent exposure.

Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, a homosexual rights organization, suggested that the indictments reflect the underlying discriminatory nature of the statute. “My concern [is] that this law can still be used to harass and intimidate gay men,” she told the paper.

A trial date in the case has not been set.

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