Last edited: April 04, 2004

Virginia Crime Panel Backs Dual Strategy on Sodomy Law

Legislature Would Ease Ban but Leave Old Statute on Books

Washington Post, January 14, 2004

By Chris L. Jenkins, Washington Post Staff Writer

RICHMOND—The Virginia State Crime Commission on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would relax the state’s ban on sodomy, but it also recommended that the existing law remain on the books, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar statute.

The commission drafted the legislation in response to last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring a Texas law unconstitutional, said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), chairman of the commission and chief sponsor of the bill, which will be considered during the General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.

The legislation is similar to Virginia’s existing sodomy ban, but acts now prohibited in private would become illegal only “in public.”

“The court has drawn a distinction between private and public sexual contact,” Albo said.

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 in the state said Virginia’s sodomy law has been used to target homosexuals, even though it also applies to heterosexuals. They expressed concern about the actions of the state commission, which met in a brief afternoon session. 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 based here. “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, he said.

He said many of his colleagues in the General Assembly want to leave the statute as it is until it has been challenged in court. Several attempts to repeal the law by state lawmakers have failed in recent years.

“We don’t want to mess with any court cases already pending,” Albo said, but if the current law is declared unconstitutional, the commission wants to have a new statute waiting.

“This is a victory for traditional families,” said Victoria Cobb, legislative director for the Family Foundation, a group that has fought to keep Virginia’s sodomy laws. “The citizens of Virginia have long supported keeping this statute, and the commission has responded to those people.”

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 state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach).

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