Virginia Eases Sodomy Ban but Keeps it on the Books
Advocate, January 15, 2004
Virginia's State Crime Commission on Tuesday endorsed
loosening the state's ban on sodomy, but it refused to completely remove the
law from the books despite last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck
down similar sodomy laws across the country, The Washington Post reports.
The legislation endorsed by the commission is similar to
Virginia's existing sodomy ban, but sex acts now prohibited in private would
become illegal only in public. "The court has drawn a distinction between
private and public sexual contact," David B. Albo, chairman of the
commission and chief sponsor of the bill, told the Post. It will be considered
during the general assembly session, which started Wednesday.
A violation of Virginia's public sodomy ban would be a
felony punishable by up to five years in prison, state officials said. Other
acts of public sex would be punishable as misdemeanors. Gay rights groups said
Virginia's sodomy law has been used to target gays and lesbians, even though
it also applies to heterosexuals. They expressed concern about the actions of
the state commission, and several said that it took a step back from the
Supreme Court's decision of last year.
"Obviously this is a disappointment for us,"
said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia, a gay rights group.
"We've been concerned that public sodomy would be a felony when other
forms of public sexual activity are considered misdemeanors. This legislation
is treating similar acts differently."
Albo said the commission decided against repealing the
current sodomy law in Virginia because some cases filed under the statute are
pending. The statute should be left on the books to undergo judicial scrutiny,
Some lawmakers on the commission said that even though
they would not block attempts to bring the bill before the legislature, they
were concerned about whether it would be fair to all Virginians. "I'm not
sure whether punishing one act more harshly than another is a direction we
should go," said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach).
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