Last edited: December 14, 2003

Darner Urges Caution in Tinkering with Sex Laws

Arlington Sun Gazette, December 4, 2003
6408 Edsall Road, Alexandria, Va. 22132
Fax: 703-204-3455

By Ryan Self, Staff Writer

Having made it a personal crusade during more than a decade in the General Assembly, Del. Karen Darner says now might not be the best time for the legislature to begin tinkering with Virginia’s rarely enforced but still-on-the-books legislation outlawing certain kinds of consensual sexual activities among adults.

Although it is seldom enforced, Virginia’s “crimes against nature” statute (officially, Section F18.2- 361 in the Code of Virginia) goes further than prohibiting homosexual sex, and bans oral and anal sex entirely. Offenses carry a maximum penalty of one to five years in prison.

“Most people have no idea that this law is on the books in Richmond,” Darner, D-49th, said. “People need to be aware—it’s very discriminatory.”

Darner, who was elected in 1991, is retiring this year. For much of her tenure, she has introduced legislation calling for a repeal of the crimes against nature statute. When her proposals went nowhere in the legislature, she introduced measures to reduce penalties for violation of the statute. That idea also has failed to win passage.

The County Board has included its support for the measures in its annual legislative package for some years.

Earlier this year, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that prohibited sodomy among same-sex adults.

The ruling implicitly threatens anti-sodomy laws in 13 states. Four of those states, including Texas, prohibit oral and anal sex among same-sex couples, while the remaining nine states, including Virginia, have blanket prohibitions on oral and anal sex.

While the court decision may make it easier for proponents to loosen Virginia’s sex statutes, Darner said that because of the current Republican hold on the General Assembly, now may not be the time to start tweaking that law.

“I’d hope for a chance to repeal the crimes-against-nature law, but knowing the mindset of some people there, maybe it should stay on the books until a different perspective is there,” Darner said. “I’m afraid there would be attempts to make it hurtful.”

“The question is whether the Supreme Court ruling will be enough impetus for a change,” said Adam Ebbin, the Democrat who was recently elected to succeed Darner in the 49th District. “The courts have made it clear that Karen’s emphasis on this was correct, and I look forward to trying to bring Virginia into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Currently, educators in Virginia’s public schools are permitted to discuss the prohibitions on certain sexual behavior as part of family-life education instruction. Attempts to restrict such information passed in the House of Delegates in 2002, but failed in the state Senate.

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